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Toronto Smart City adviser resigns over data concerns

In her resignation letter and associated tweet, Muzaffar (@ThisTechGirl) claims that the Sidewalk Labs led project is not taking seriously the concerns of Toronto’s citizens about how Sidewalk Labs, which is part of Alphabet (which owns Google), will surveil them and handle data.

She writes: “The most recent public roundtable in August displayed a blatant disregard for resident concerns about data and digital infrastructure. Time was spent instead talking about buildings made of wood and the width of one-way streets, things no one has contested or expressed material concern for in this entire process.”

Saadia Muzaffar is a tech entrepreneur, author, and advocate of responsible innovation. She was featured in Canada 150 Women and is the founder of TechGirls Canada, a hub for Canadian women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

The project that Sidewalk Labs is coordinating concerns the redevelopment of the disused waterfront and transforming this into a space for 21st-Century urbanism, to become what Digital Journal describes as a “bustling mini metropolis that has the Internet and connected technology at the core.”

However, data privacy concerns have dogged the project from the outset. In March 2108 journalist Karen Graham reported how many citizens of Toronto reported that they had concerns and knew “very little about what the company will be doing with all the user information it collects.”

However, seven months on it would seem, according to Muzaffar, that few lessons have been learnt. She draws upon two matters which she sees as not being adequate addressed. First, there is a lack of transparency on Waterfront Toronto’s part in communicating the plan to the public. Secondly, there is the risk of entrenching ill-considered surveillance technology in city infrastructure.

Quoted on Motherboard, Michael Nobrega, Acting CEO of Waterfront Toronto states that these matters are being addressed: “We are unwavering in our commitment to serving the public interest and look forward to receiving the advice of the [Digital Strategy Advisory Panel]. We are also well supported by external privacy and legal experts including a former Federal Privacy Commissioner, and continue to welcome the comments and interest of a broad base of community members.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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