Canadian government sued over Google 'smart city'

Nick Allen
The area envisioned by Sidewalk Labs as a new technical hub - REUTERS

The Canadian government is being sued over plans to build a Google "smart city" after civil rights activists claimed it would amount to an invasion of privacy.

Sidewalk Labs, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is proposing to turn a rundown part of Toronto's waterfront into a high-tech community with a myriad of sensors embedded in its infrastructure.

It plans to erect blocks of flats, offices, shops and a school on a 12-acre site, a first step toward what it hopes will eventually be an 800-acre development.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has now sued the Canadian government, and the local and provincial governments.

Michael Bryant, the group's executive director, said: "Scientists profit from your behavioural data. Canada, Toronto, you are the lab rats."

A spokesman for Canada's infrastructure minister said the development would be pursued in and "ethical and accountable" way.

The project would allow Sidewalk Labs to wire up everything including  street lights and stretches of pavement.

There would be heated roads to melt ice and snow on contact, and sensors that would monitor traffic and protect pedestrians.

In Canada concerns about what would be done with the data of people living there have intensified following a series of privacy scandals at Google and Facebook.

Some also want the public to receive some of the revenue from products that are eventually developed from Canada’s largest city being used as an urban laboratory.