Sidewalk Toronto project loses privacy expert over data anonymization policy

A rendering of Sidewalk Labs' Quayside project in Toronto. (Sidewalk Toronto)


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Yet another stakeholder for the Sidewalk Toronto project has resigned — this time following a meeting of the digital strategy advisory committee of Waterfront Toronto, citing the project’s wayward data privacy policy.

Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner and expert-in-residence at Ryerson University, resigned as a paid consultant for Sidewalk Labs last week over concerns that the data collected by sensors and other technologies in the Quayside neighborhood would not be anonymized by third-party players.

“People don’t have an opportunity to consent to their data being collected — it’s going to be collected automatically with sensors and other technologies. Given that you can’t consent, it has to, automatically, be de-identified at source the minute it’s collected,” Cavoukian told StateScoop.

Sidewalk Labs, which recently outlined its plan for a civic data trust to house all the data collected by sensors, has been clear in its effort to enforce all third-party companies to comply with a Responsible Data Impact Assessment, or RDIA, before accessing data. The company has also committed to de-identifying data at the source itself — but won’t hold third-party providers to the same standard.

The problem for Cavoukian — who authored the “ Privacy by Design ” framework that has influenced the project — is that Sidewalk Labs isn’t committed to her vision of privacy.

“I imagined us creating a Smart City of Privacy, as opposed to a Smart City of Surveillance,” she wrote in her resignation letter, according to Global News .

“They’ve created this new data trust and they said we can’t control what [third party tech providers and data users] do. Not acceptable,” Cavoukian said. “In resigning, I made it clear that Waterfront Toronto, … they have to lay down the law and basically say you must de-identify the data at source. Anyone who wants to work with us, any companies, any players, everybody has to de-identify the data at source.”

Cavoukian said Sidewalk Lab’s data trust is a positive development that will increase the number of people able to offer input into how the project’s data is governed and used, and if the data de-indentification issue is corrected, she’ll be happy to work on the project again.

Waterfront Toronto released a statement noting it “has great respect for Dr. Cavoukian and Privacy by Design,” and said it “recognizes and respects the obligation to adhere to Canadian privacy laws, which go beyond Privacy by Design.”

The CEO of Waterfront Toronto and a board member resigned in August, and TechGirls Canada founder Saadia Muzaffar stepped down from the panel earlier this month.

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Open Data, Open Government, Privacy, Sidewalk Labs, Sidewalk Toronto, Smart Cities, State & Local News, Waterfront Toronto