Whether residents’ consent to data collection can be obtained in smart city and super city initiatives is a matter of life and death. Sometimes there is strong opposition, and plans are derailed. I would like to take a look back at the case of Toronto, which is often cited when this topic comes up, using the keyword “trust.”
In 2017, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., was selected to build a smart city in the waterfront district of Toronto, Canada. The project is a green field project with an area of approximately 12 acres (the size of one Tokyo Dome), and has attracted high expectations and interest not only from the IT industry but also from many other fields, including urban planning and construction. The plan included many elements aimed at creating an attractive future city, including sustainable architectural design, transportation systems that respond to traffic volume, and provision of high-quality, reasonably priced housing for residents. However, in 2020, Sidewalk Lab suddenly announced its withdrawal.
A major cause of the plan’s failure was said to be strong opposition from citizens to the plan to collect data by deploying a huge number of sensors. Privacy expert Ann Kabukian also resigned from her role as a consultant at the company. Of course, the reason for the cancellation was not only the opposition movement, but also the stagnation of negotiations with the government and the failure to accept a change proposal from Sidewalk Lab to expand the development area by 16 times in one fell swoop. In other words, this appears to be because a management decision was made that it was not profitable.
I would venture to say that people today do not simply dislike being monitored and having their data obtained. Many users use ”free and convenient” services, such as SNS, with the understanding that they provide data to operating companies. For example, awareness of surveillance cameras, which had many negative opinions when they were initially introduced, has changed dramatically to positive evaluations that they bring a sense of security. David Ryan, known for his theory of surveillance society, acknowledges that in modern society, surveillance has become a culture among people (surveillance culture), and people sometimes even volunteer to monitor themselves as a game.
However, on the other hand, there is also a growing awareness of privacy as two sides of the same coin. Of course there are benefits to be gained from providing data, but two types of ”trust” are required of the entity acquiring the data. One is trust in the “honesty” of not betraying people and keeping promises and responding, and the other is whether the data obtained can be fully utilized and prevent leaks due to hacking or mistakes. It is trust in “ability.” No matter which one is missing, it will not be possible to gain support from citizens. The former is more difficult to win because it cannot be shown by data.
As a Google affiliate company that collects vast amounts of user data and earns huge profits, people were deeply distrustful of ”honesty” of how Sidewalk Labs uses the data it collects. In this case, it is thought that the government and the company did not adequately explain the basic policy on data handling to citizens in advance, and the information was delayed, leading to strong opposition.