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Big data and surveillance in cities: convenience vs tracking

Guest post by Peter Van

Sidewalk Labs is Google’s / Alphabet Inc.’s urban innovation organisation. Its goal is to improve urban infrastructure through technological solutions, and tackle issues such as cost of living, efficient transportation and energy usage (Wikipedia). Looking at their website, it’s full of ambitious goals: reimagining cities to improve quality of life, people-centered design, street safety, affordable housing, sustainability, people first, etc. In other words: do the right thing.

The Intercept takes a deeper look and presents a more skeptical perspective: instead of the usual statistical data, the project uses real-time location data, but it’s unclear where does data come from. The Intercept is also raising questions about how Sidewalk Labs sets limits in regards to the type and quality of consent; and – more worrying – its potential for corporate and government surveillance.

“If Sidewalk Labs has access to people’s unique paths of movement prior to making its synthetic models, wouldn’t it be possible to figure out who they are, based on where they go to sleep or work?”

“Replica is a perfect example of surveillance capitalism, profiting from information collected from and about us as we use the products that have become a part of our lives. We need to start asking, as a society, if we are going to continue to allow business models that are built around exploiting our information without meaningful consent

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