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Is Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs doomed? Hiring tumbles at Google's city of the future

1 month ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in
Artwork for Sidewalk Labs

Alphabet ($NASDAQ:GOOG), Google's parent company, is virtually always hiring thousands of people. As of this week, it has over 4,200 openings at offices around the world. But one of its companies, Sidewalk Labs, is experiencing an unusual, statistically relevant, cut in hiring investment.

Sidewalk Labs is described as an Alphabet company that is "designing a district in Torotno's Eastern Waterfront to tackle the challenges of urban growth." While Alphabet's city of the future was never hiring thousands — or even hundreds — of people, for a project that's meant to be not just an R&D hivemind but also a growth center, it's not seeing the hiring activity one may expect.

In April, Alphabet was hiring 26 savvy urban planners — everyone from professors to building engineers — but as of this week, it's only listing 12 openings on its careers site. While this could simply be a lull in hiring as it awaits funding, approval, and political momentum, it's the lack of those things that points back to this slowdown and reasonable concern for the project's long-term viability.

Sidewalk Labs' mission sounds great — a tech giant solving urban life with all of its technology and brilliant minds. But the project has hit some physical and political battles. Some locals — including those with political power — don't love it. An advisory panel recently called it vague and repetitive, "frustratingly abstract" and that the model neighborhood doesn't "put the citizen at the center of the design process."

But it's not all bad. The Alpabet sub-company has successfully pushed out impressive technology like Replica, a data-miner that maps urban population movement, that it spun out into a company with an $11 million series A.

And early in its inception in 2017, Sidewalk Labs had the support of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who broke ground on the project with Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt. But that's also when locals gave Alphabet and its project the side-eye, concerned over what the company would do with the data it collected on its residents. In fact, a July 2019 survey by Forum Research found that 60% of those familiar with Sidealk Labs didn't trust Alphabet to collect data on citizens.

Sidealk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, who was once CEO and president of Bloomberg L.P. and deputy mayor for economic development under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, remains optimistic. In June, he and Sidewalk Labs published a 1,500+ page "Master Innovation and Development Plan" proposal for Toronto's waterfront that he told Fast Company has led to "many large-scale developers, municipalities, even countries to reach out." 

Whatever Alphabet plans to do with the project — Sidewalk Labs says it "aims to make Toronbto the global hub for urban innovation" — it seems that Alphabet has cooled off in terms of hiring for the ambitious (if vague) project.

About the Data: 

Thinknum tracks companies using information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

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Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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