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Oct 15, 2018

Sidewalk Labs unveils draft data and privacy plans for high-tech Toronto project

Sidewalk Labs CEO: 'We have to win people's trust'

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TORONTO -- Sidewalks Labs has submitted a draft proposal detailing how it will handle data and privacy issues stemming from a high-tech community it hopes to build in Toronto.

The Alphabet Inc.(GOOGL.O)-backed organization said in the proposal released Monday that Sidewalk Labs does not plan on owning data the company gathers in public places.

Instead, it's proposing that an independent organization called the Civic Data Trust will control the data, set the rules around its use and make it open and accessible to people while offering privacy protection.

"The Civic Data Trust would be guided by a charter ensuring that urban data is collected and used in a way that is beneficial to the community, protects privacy, and spurs innovation and investment," said Alyssa Harvey Dawson, head of data governance at Sidewalk Labs in a blog post.

Anyone wanting to collect and access the data will have to seek approval from the Trust, and Sidewalk Labs will not receive any special status or rights, she said.

The goal is to allow the publicly gathered data to eventually be available for free to help with future urban designs and improvements.

"We believe that, as a default matter, de-identified urban data should be made freely and publicly available," said Dawson.

The Trust would govern data collected without consent, such as pedestrian counters and street-facing cameras, though it would be wiped of personal information. Data collected with consent, however, such as through websites and mobile apps, wouldn't be subject to control of the Trust.

Some critics of the data collection have raised concerns about it being stored in other countries, but Sidewalk Labs has rejected calls to keep storage local.

"Data localization presents a number of challenges, including that it runs counter to the way information travels across the internet and creates higher barriers to entry for startups," said Dawson.

Instead, legal protection can be best achieved through contractual requirements and technical mechanisms, she said.

Sidewalk Labs' proposal will next head to Waterfront Toronto and the public to review and incorporate into the draft master plan for that project that they are due to release next year.

Since the project was announced, it has been marred with concerns around privacy and how data will be collected, kept, accessed and protected.