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Sidewalk Labs to improve Toronto living

Toronto is a great city and I am happy to have called it my home for over a decade. But there are flaws that have me thinking about moving to the suburbs and even to the Hamilton region. Mainly this has to do with the astronomical cost of living , and the unavoidable congestion on roadways and delays experienced on transit.  But even a move to the suburbs would mean a more expensive and time-consuming commute to central Toronto for work.

I dwell on the thought of moving for a moment, and I remind myself why I love Toronto so much- the culture, the activity and the people.

Organizations are stepping in to attempt to better our great city. Sidewalk Labs is a Google-affiliated high-tech company, which is pushing to develop a technological hub on Queen’s Quay. The Manhattan-based firm that specializes in urban innovation, seeks to use its technology to include sensors that will collect and analyze data. This will then be used to  assist with solving problems in Toronto — such as high housing costs, road safety and safety of citizens as well as other issues that go along with urban living.

This all sounds beneficial, but worries have arisen over how the data collected will be used. On the heels of the Cambridge Analytica case, which saw a privacy breach on 600,000 Canadians and over 80 million Facebook users, this is a growing concern. Questions as to whether the U.S. government will have access to private data were also posed.

Sidewalk Labs won a Waterfront Toronto contest last October to develop a live-and-work neighbourhood on 12 acres of land that stretches from Queens Quay to Parliament Street. The firm released a “summery report” on Wednesday.

In the report, residents said their wish is for any data collected to be “transparent and consensual.”

If the Sidewalk Toronto project is fully approved, it will be partially paid for by Canadian taxpayers through a public-private partnership. Any councillors who know insider details about the project have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

The pitch made by Sidewalk Labs last fall was quite attractive- proposing the neighbourhood would serve as “a hub for innovation-related companies and entrepreneurs,” while offering residents more opportunities to “live, work, learn and play.”

While some developers are concerned the benefits that may result if the plan is executed in a transparent  and effective way could be massive for the city.

Facebook: a politician’s best friend

Gone are the days when Facebook was simply used to reconnect with old pals and to stay updated.  I’ll admit that sometimes I do still get sidetracked scrolling through old photos , but the platform functions have certainly changed.

The social platform is about far more than staying in touch with friends and creeping on old flames. Many businesses use it to promote their products and services. When poll time rolls around, politicians turn to Facebook to build their following.

Ontario residents are preparing to cast ballots in  the provincial election this year, and as June 7th approaches, many politicians are relying on Facebook, by posting ads that cater to individual interests of voters.

The platform now allows campaigns to micro-target voters based on age, location, interests, gender and political positions. This tactic is helpful to  parties because it targets a more widespread audience.

Facebook stores such a massive amount of data that outlines users’ interests and the new techniques used by politicians to capitalize on it. It’s for this reason that one person might see an ad from a political party about slashing taxes, and someone else, might see an ad from the same party focusing on health care.

Although political ads on Facebook were used by Canadian parties for a number of years, it is the variation and intricate targeting that has now reached a new level. The ads are much more sophisticated.

They are not only far-reaching, but are also extremely low in cost, which makes it an even more effective campaigning tool for politicians.

 I do find the pooling of information worrisome, especially after the Cambridge Analytica issue that brought Zuckerberg to a formal inquiry. The Cambridge firm had access to  private information of more than 600,000 Canadians, and over 80 million Facebook users globally while execs of the social media platform sat on the information knowingly until outed by a whistleblower.

I  am not a fan of the platform currently, because the ads and sponsored posts that are meant to target my interests, seem to have taken over my homepage. I miss the days when Facebook was for catching up and daydreaming over my friends’ travel photos and becoming nostalgic over relatives’ family photos. But the business and entrepreneurial  side of me gets it.