'Public good' not 'properly represented' by Sidewalk Labs: former RIM CEO
Published Saturday, October 13, 2018 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, October 13, 2018 10:05PM EDT
Sidewalk Labs, which is run by Google parent company Alphabet, plans to turn a rundown stretch of Toronto’s waterfront into a futuristic digital community in conjunction with the municipal, provincial and federal governments.
While that innovation excites some, Jim Balsillie -- who helped turn Research In Motion into a multibillion dollar Canadian tech giant as its former CEO -- believes the relationship between Google and the three levels of government is too cozy.
“It shows how insecure our politicians are that… we would self-colonize ourselves and let somebody come in and say, ‘Oh please, take all of our economy and take control of our city,’” Balsillie told CTV News.
Balsillie has previously battled Google when Android, which Google controls, ate into Blackberry’s smartphone business. Balsillie denies that his stance on Sidewalk Labs has anything to do with old rivalries.
“I don’t think the public good is being properly represented by those that understand what they’re doing and understand the nature, technically, of what’s at play here,” he said.
There are other Canadian tech entrepreneurs that share Balsillie’s concerns.
“Why are we encouraging U.S. multinationals to come up here, suck up all the talent and have the (intellectual property) and data flow back to the States?” Bruce Coxon, who co-founded online dating service Lavalife, said in an interview.
Critics also fear that the project will place more personal data in the hands of a U.S. tech company that has increasingly found itself in the privacy spotlight.
“Our founders got really excited about this and we started talking about all of these things that we could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge,” former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said at a 2017 Sidewalk Labs press event that also included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Hmm. It’s not how it works, guys.”
Sidewalk Labs says it will release details on its plan to tackle data and privacy concerns in the coming weeks. Its CEO, Dan Doctoroff, says its plan to build a digital city still needs approvals from all levels of government before it can move ahead.
“To come out and criticize it before people actually have a sense for what we’re going to do, I think, is at least a little bit surprising to me,” Doctoroff said in a recent interview. “But asking the questions is the right thing.”
If Sidewalk Labs is successful in winning the debate over privacy, construction of the high-profile project could begin as soon as 2020, which means the first businesses and residents of this new digital community could start moving in within the next four to five years.
With a report from CTV News correspondent Jon Erlichman