Earlier this month, when Larry Page announced that Google was launching a new startup called Sidewalk Labs to develop and incubate technology for cities, many wondered what the company [intended to do].
Now, that fuzzy logic is coming into focus. Today, Sidewalk Labs announced it would be leading the acquisition of two companies behind New York City’s LinkNYC initiative, an ongoing plan to convert old pay phones into free public Wi-Fi hubs. Through the acquisition, Sidewalk Labs is merging the two companies—Control Group, which provides the interface for the new hubs, and Titan, which is overseeing the advertising that will pay for the project. The new venture, aptly named Intersection, will seek to bring free public Wi-Fi to cities around the world using different pieces of urban infrastructure, from pay phones to bus stops.
If you look at the underlying need, combined with Google’s interest in being a catalyst for faster, lower-priced internet access (e.g., Google Fiber, Project Fi, Project Loon), this was almost inevitable. Also inevitable: inquiry and debate about privacy issues (whether warranted or not).