(April 24, 2019, 9:27 AM EDT) —The Google subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, is proposing to create an “innovative urban district” on Toronto’s waterfront to be called Quayside. The goal is to overlay the “physical layer” of the urban environment (buildings, streets, vehicles) with a “digital layer” of information reflecting the dynamic activities and interactions within the physical layer.
Essential to the creation of this digital information layer is the collection of data, both public and private, reflecting these activities and interactions. The ultimate objective is to obtain a greater understanding of the nature of dynamic activities within the community, and thereby achieve insights and enhance planning of the urban environment – addressing energy efficiencies, economic efficiencies, quality of life and sustainability.
Sidewalk Labs’ proposal involves not only the utilization of significant “private space” data stores obtained through existing technologies such as connected devices but also significant new data collection reflecting the dynamic interactions of people and things within the neighborhood. This new data would to a great extent be collected from “public spaces”, not within the scope of private space data stores, and would serve to fill in many of the gaps within the existing “physical layer” of the neighborhood, with dynamic digital data. Furthermore, much of this new data collection would involve identifiable personal information.
How to characterize and treat the personally-identifiable data collected in public spaces? Should this data be considered publicly available and therefore accessible to and usable by any person who wishes to collect it? Or is it personal information that should be governed by the full rigour of applicable privacy laws? If the data is personal information, what privacy laws would, or should, apply? Answers to these questions inform not only determination of the entities that should be collecting and managing the data but also the oversight regime that should regulate these activities.
Next week: Sidewalk Labs – Options for public sector data governance
David Young Law
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