Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs has abandoned another US smart city project after reported fights about transparency
Feb 24, 2021, 3:41 AM
- Yet another smart city project launched by Google-backed Sidewalk Labs has been scrapped.
- Officials in Portland, Oregon said it had ended its relationship with Sidewalk spin-off firm Replica.
- The move follows failures to get another project off the ground in Toronto.
Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of Google, has ditched another smart city plan after reported disputes over data sharing with officials.
In 2019, Sidewalk Labs partnered with officials in Portland, Oregon, on a plan to track how people move around the city. Less than two years later, disagreements over transparency have brought the project to a halt. RedTailMedia first broke the news.
Sidewalk Labs used its Replica software to map how people move through the city, and planned to use this data to help officials make planning decisions that would increase mobility, reduce congestion, and improve residents’ quality of life.
Replica was later spun out as a separate company, which took on the project full-time.
RedTailMedia reported that there had been constant disagreements between senior figures on either side of the project, with Portland raising questions over the accuracy and transparency of Replica’s data and eventually nixing the project.
Are you a current or former Googler with more to share? You can contact this reporter securely using the encrypted messaging app Signal (+447801985586) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Reach out using a non-work device.
A spokesperson for the company told the BBC that Portland officials were “frustrated” by its refusal to share subjects’ personal data.
“At Replica, we believe better insights should not come at the cost of personal privacy,” they said. “We were not willing to compromise on our privacy principles, which frustrated our Portland Metro client and ultimately led to an early end to the project.”
The decision comes less than a year after Sidewalk Labs abandoned an ambitious $900 million for a high-tech neighborhood in Toronto, citing economic “uncertainties.”
Around the same time, Protocol reported that Kansas City officials found a trial of Replica’s software useful but “didn’t have enough staff ‘to take advantage of all of its capabilities.'”
A spokesperson for Portland Metro, the city agency in charge of the latest project to be scrapped, told the BBC: “After review of the draft data, Metro ended its relationship with Replica. Metro did not pay Replica for any services.”
They added: “We wish Sidewalk Labs the best with its future work.”
Insider approached Replica and Portland City Council for further comment.