February 27, 2020 / 1:08 AM / a month ago

Alphabet still facing questions over data use in its Toronto smart city project proposal

FILE PHOTO: A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company's offices in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

TORONTO (Reuters) - Alphabet’s proposed “smart” city development in Toronto is facing fresh questions over the project’s data-gathering technology from a panel advising the Canadian government-mandated body in charge of getting it built.

Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs, which is developing the proposal for the futuristic housing and community development, agreed to scale back plans after privacy experts and other town planners said the technology involved was excessively invasive. It resubmitted its proposal in November.

Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel (DSAP), composed of experts in digital privacy and innovation, remain concerned about the revised plan, however, it said in a report released on Wednesday.

The panel has said more clarity is needed on several parts of the proposal, “including but not limited to an explanation of why digital approaches to solutions were chosen over non-digital ones,” panel chair Michael Geist said in a blog post accompanying the report’s release.

Asked to comment on the panel’s concerns, Sidewalk Labs spokeswoman Keerthana Rang said in an emailed statement that the technology incorporated into the proposed development would be in line with what is already in use for Toronto residents, and added Sidewalk Labs’ proposal has never included a “surveillance system, social credit scores or facial recognition.”

Canada is in the process of upgrading its digital privacy laws, which have not been updated since the 1990s.

Waterfront Toronto’s board will make a final decision on the project proposal in May.

Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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