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Ontario's former privacy commissioner resigns from Sidewalk Labs

Last Updated Oct 21, 2018 at 4:28 pm EDT

In this Aug. 15, 2018 photo, post-it notes cover a wall labeled "feedback" during a forum hosted by Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs in Toronto, Canada, regarding a proposal to take a rundown neighborhood of Toronto's waterfront and develop it into perhaps the most wired community in history. Critics of the project have raised alarms about whether the idea gives the tech giant too much data and power. (AP Photo/Rob Gillies)

Ontario’s former privacy commissioner has resigned from her consulting role at a company that is preparing to build a high-tech community at Toronto’s waterfront, citing concerns that a privacy framework she developed is being overlooked.

Ann Cavoukian says she stepped down from Google sister company Sidewalk Labs on Friday following a meeting earlier in the week, when the organization said it could not guarantee people’s personal information would be protected.

She says a crucial feature of her privacy framework is that when personal information is collected by surveillance cameras and sensors, any personally identifying data is removed or “anonomized” immediately.

Cavoukian says personally identifying data is not just a person’s name, and there is information can be indirectly identifying, such as the specifics of where a person is travelling that can be linked to that individual.

Sidewalk Labs released a statement that said it would play “a more limited role” in discussions about data governance, and that while it agrees to follow her framework, Sidewalk Labs cannot gurantee that other companies involved in the project would do so as well.

Last October, Waterfront Toronto announced it had chosen Sidewalk Labs to present a plan to design a high-tech neighbourhood for the Quayside development, which is along Toronto’s eastern waterfront.

Since then, the Alphabet Inc.-backed project has faced controversy because critics have complained that few details have been shared including how data will be collected, kept, accessed and protected.

Cavoukian’s resignation comes after a member of the panel guiding the plans stepped down earlier this month after she developed “deep dismay” and “profound concern” over a lack of leadership from Waterfront Toronto with ensuring public trust around privacy.

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