Alphabet Inc.’s Google subsidiary has scaled back its work on a smart city project in Toronto after facing backlash over concerns about privacy and data collection. The company announced Thursday that it is suspending its work on the project, called Sidewalk Labs, while it reassesses the principles behind the initiative. Toronto Mayor John Tory said earlier this year that he was interested in working with Sidewalk Labs to develop a “world-class” smart city. But he became concerned about the company’s plans after learning more about its data collection methods.
Overview of Alphabet’s Toronto smart city project
Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) scaling back of its Toronto smart city project has drawn criticism from city officials and angered the startup’s backers, who say it could have been a game-changer for the city.
The Alphabet unit Google X had been working on a so-called “smart city” project in Toronto that would have used sensors, data analysis and machine learning to improve urban infrastructure such as energy usage and traffic congestion.
However, after months of discussion with the city, which had initially been enthusiastic about the plan, it was revealed late last month that the company was pulling out of the project altogether. The decision came shortly after Toronto Mayor John Tory issued an open letter urging Alphabet to stay in the city.
“I am disappointed that Google has decided to withdraw from our collaboration,” Tory said in a statement. “This potential partnership could have made a real difference for Toronto’s future and I am committed to finding another partner that can bring this important work to life.”
Alphabet reportedly pulled out of the Toronto project because of disagreements over how much control it wanted over its data.
Reactions to the project after it was announced
The Alphabet Company, the parent company of Google, has announced that it is scaling back its smart city project in Toronto after a backlash from the public and city officials. The project was to install hundreds of sensors around the city in an effort to improve traffic flow and air quality. However, people were not happy with the idea of their data being collected and used by a corporation like Alphabet. City officials also voiced concern about how the data would be used, saying that they did not want their city turned into a testing ground for Google’s technology. This announcement comes just weeks after Mayor John Tory said that he was “open to exploring” a partnership between the city and Alphabet. It seems that Toronto’s interest in partnering with Alphabet was only temporary, as the company has now decided to pull back from its project.
What this means for Alphabet’s future in Toronto
Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) retreat from its smart city project in Toronto after backlash underscores the challenges the company faces as it tries to revive its fortunes.
The Alphabet unit, Sidewalk Labs, announced in February that it was abandoning a five-year collaboration with the city to build what was billed as a “smart city” on Toronto’s waterfront. The decision came after residents and activists voiced concerns about the privacy implications of tracking activities and data being collected by sensors in the neighbourhood.
The setback comes as Alphabet tries to rebrand itself as a more sustainable and ethical company. On Tuesday, Sidewalk Labs said it would focus on projects that improve quality of life for people, not just technology innovation.
After facing backlash from the public and city officials, Alphabet Inc.’s Sidewalk Labs has scaled back its ambitious smart city project in Toronto. The company had planned to build a series of interconnected sensors, cameras, and data-collection towers across 350 acres of downtown Toronto to improve traffic flow and energy efficiency. However, after concerns were raised about the privacy implications of the project as well as fears that it would become another white elephant in the city’s already strained infrastructure, Sidewalk Labs has decided to delay construction indefinitely.