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Google’s street-side gigabit WiFi kiosks could also watch for terrorists & gas leaks


If you live or work in NYC, you may have already seen the LinkNYC kiosks that offer free gigabit WiFi access, USB charging ports and more, funded by the ads they display on the embedded screens. But Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs believes they can do much more.

According to documents obtained by Re/code, Sidewalk Labs wants to embed into the kiosks a whole range of sensors designed to improve safety and quality of life …

The documents, which formed part of Sidewalk Labs’ pitch to cities participating in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, show that Alphabet — Google’s parent company — wants to monitor pedestrian, bike and car traffic, track passing wireless devices, listen to street noise and use the kiosks’ built-in video cameras to identify abandoned packages […]

Understanding and measuring traffic congestion, identifying dangerous situations like gas leaks, monitoring air quality, and identifying quality of life issues like idling trucks.

There are currently 200 of the original kiosks installed on NYC streets, each of which generates around $30k a year in ad revenue. But with 100 more likely to be installed in Columbus, Ohio, the company is offering to add a range of sensors. The exact mix of functionality offered would be chosen by city authorities.

The existing kiosks in NYC do have cameras, but they are not currently operational. The NY Civil Liberties Union has expressed privacy concerns about the cameras and other data collected.

Sidewalk Labs isn’t offering the kiosks as a charitable venture: cities have the choice of paying installation and running costs, estimated at $45,000 per year per kiosk, or permitting advertising on two separate screens. This option would cover all the costs and generate an estimated $60k in ad revenue, split 50/50 between the city and Google. No prizes for guessing which deal cities are likely to choose.

Sidewalk Labs’ ambitions appear to extend well beyond kiosks, however: it was recently reported that it is progressing its plans to build an entire hi-tech city.

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