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Could public libraries be custodians of smart city data?

The approach has been put forward as a solution to the ongoing debate about data governance at Toronto’s Waterfront Quayside project.


A new report from the Toronto Region Board of Trade recommends that policymakers assign oversight and development of smart city data policy to the Toronto Public Library.


The Board’s BiblioTech report comes in response to the debate over data management at the Toronto Waterfront Quayside project. The area is being developed by Sidewalk Labs, the smart city division of Google-owner Alphabet.


The Library has been suggested, the Board of Trade says, because “it is a longstanding public institution with broad respect in the technology community for its balanced approach to data policy and information management”.


Rewarding citizens


The report also recommends the City of Toronto should explore ways that could enable citizens to share the financial benefits of intellectual property that is commercialised at Quayside and other public realm IoT smart city projects.


The Board’s President & CEO, Jan De Silva, noted that most Board of Trade members “strongly support” Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto’s efforts to develop the Waterfront project, despite the ongoing debate about governance and other milestones in the Quayside plan.


"Sidewalk’s Quayside pilot has the potential to be a marquee project for the City of Toronto’s tech community."


De Silva said: “Sidewalk’s Quayside pilot has the potential to be a marquee project for the City of Toronto’s tech community. But for Toronto to be a relevant global city in the new economy and for tech companies to commercialise their innovations at home here in Canada, we need to get our policies in order on data governance, and we need to accelerate the deployment of pilots.


"Other global cities are actively organising and preparing for these challenges with a similar approach already." 


He added: “We know other businesses are asking questions about what’s appropriate on the issue of capturing public data, and we know the City is dealing with similar challenges of its own with public realm data.


“It’s time for cities to start answering these questions, alongside broader provincial and federal policies to address these issues.”




In October last year, tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar resigned from the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel of Waterfront Toronto, describing its “apathy” and “utter lack of leadership regarding shaky public trust and social license” as “astounding”. She also cited concern around its partnership with Sidewalk Labs.


Sidewalk Labs says it wants to set a “new model for responsible data use in cities”.


Later that month, privacy expert, Ann Cavoukian resigned from her position as advisor to Sidewalk Labs because of concerns over personal data security. Cavoukian, former information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, stated in her resignation letter that the proposed protection of personal data “is not acceptable”.


Sidewalk Labs has said it wants to set a “new model for responsible data use in cities” – including the establishment of an independent Civic Data Trust.


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