Google Is Transforming NYC’s Payphones Into a ‘Personalized Propaganda Engine’

The Village Voice
Nick Pinto

Maybe the kiosk warning should read, Be Suspicious of Anything Free in New York City. The city isn’t building the network at all. It will be built, owned, and operated by a consortium of private companies calling itself CityBridge. The history and structure of CityBridge is tangled. When it was awarded the city franchise in 2014, the consortium included some of the biggest companies in their respective fields: Qualcomm, the telecom manufacturer; Civiq Smartscapes, a Comark Corporation company working on technologies for wired smart-cities; Control Group, the technology and design consultants; and the outdoor-advertising company Titan. Last summer, two of the core partners, Titan and Control Group, were bought up and merged into a new company, Intersection. Intersection, in turn, is owned by Sidewalk Labs. And Sidewalk Labs, an “urban innovation company,” is owned by Alphabet, the renamed umbrella corporation most people still know as Google.

That LinkNYC is, ultimately, underwritten by Google should tell you a lot about why New York got so very lucky as to receive an unprecedentedly fast network of citywide public Wi-Fi — for “free.” Not only is CityBridge going to lay miles of new fiber and operate, maintain, and upgrade the network at no cost to you the consumer, it’s going to kick the city at least half a billion dollars over the next twelve years to boot.

The whole thing is financed by advertising. Each kiosk’s twin 55-inch displays will carry targeted ads based on an audience profile algorithmically derived from the information the kiosks collect from their users. But as the old internet saw goes: If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. And that should give New Yorkers pause, says Lee Tien, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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