Seriously, having Google running your life sounds even worse than George Orwell’s worst nightmares:
When Google sibling Sidewalk Labs announced in 2017 a $50 million investment into a project to redevelop a portion of Toronto’s waterfront, it seemed almost too good to be true. Someday soon, Sidewalk Labs promised, Torontonians would live and work in a 12-acre former industrial site in skyscrapers made from timber—a cheaper and more sustainable building material. Streets paved with a new sort of light-up paver would let the development change its design in seconds, able to play host to families on foot and to self-driving cars. Trash would travel through underground chutes. Sidewalks would heat themselves. Forty percent of the thousands of planned apartments would be set aside for low- and middle-income families. And the Google sister company founded to digitize and techify urban planning would collect data on all of it, in a quest to perfect city living.
But Sidewalk Labs’ vision was in trouble long before the pandemic. Since its inception, the project had been criticized by progressive activists concerned about how the Alphabet company would collect and protect data, and who would own that data. Conservative Ontario premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, wondered whether taxpayers would get enough bang from the project’s bucks. New York-based Sidewalk Labs wrestled with its local partner, the waterfront redevelopment agency, over ownership of the project’s intellectual property and, most critically, its financing. At times, its operators seemed confounded by the vagaries of Toronto politics. The project had missed deadline after deadline.
The partnership took a bigger hit last summer, when Sidewalk Labs released a splashy and even more ambitious 1,524-page master plan for the lot that went well beyond what the government had anticipated, and for which the company pledged to spend up to $1.3 billion to complete. The redevelopment group wondered whether some of Sidewalk Labs’ proposals related to data collection and governance were even “in compliance with applicable laws.” It balked at a suggestion that the government commit millions to extend public transit into the area, a commitment, the group reminded the company, that it could not make on its own.
Seriously, giving your city to a profit driven ghoulish mega-corporation seems to be hihg on the list of really stupid ideas.
Good that it is over.