The end of another Sidewalk Labs-linked project highlights smart city sticking point

After much hype, Sidewalk Labs ended its projected $1.3 billion initiative last spring due to “unprecedented economic uncertainty” following the onset of the coronavirus. By that time though, the project had developed fierce opposition from local activists, who cited concerns about how the private sector-led project would intrude into people’s everyday lives.

“I think there was both that naivete [and] kind of an arrogance of, ‘Oh we’re Google, just trust us… Everything will be fine.’ People are worried about their privacy. There’s a lot of distrust out there,” said Karen Lightman, executive director of the Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Privacy can’t be an afterthought, it needs to be intentional, she said.

That distrust among U.S. residents toward big tech companies has compounded into what some experts have deemed a “techlash.”

The concept of smart cities was once largely viewed with “boundless optimism,” but now the smart city moniker can sometimes be viewed as a negative, according to Lightman.