Connected Cars And Privacy: Can You Have Both?

Porsche says it has joined the “Startup Autobahn innovation platform.” It describes the system in terms only a techie can appreciate, saying it is a way from tech companies to work on “intelligent solutions at the interface between hardware and software.” The development can take place in a workshop or a hacker space and may involve 3D printers and robots. If all that sounds benign, think again. The barrier between connected cars and personal privacy is getting weaker all the time.

connected cars and privacy

Truth to tell, the cars of the future will tattle on us to any number of corporations and government agencies. Tesla has just announced that it is working with insurance company partners to include the cost of insurance in the price of its cars. That is happening in Asian markets only for the time being, but could easily translate to other markets. While that may be a convenience for drivers, it does raise some disturbing questions. Tesla also collects data on every mile its 180,000 cars drive and stores it for later analysis. That includes GPS information as well as speed and movements of the steering wheel among other parameters.

Tesla Partners With Insurance Companies

If Tesla is partnering with insurance companies, is it also sharing data with them about how you drive, where you drive, and when you drive? There’s a good chance it does. Many insurers now offer their customers a chance to lower their premiums if they simply install a dongle in the OBD-II port that reports everything we do behind the wheel to the companies. Did you exceed a posted speed limit on Tuesday? Your insurance company will know. Did you make an illegal U-turn on Friday? Your insurance company will know that too.

Most Americans are perfectly content to have their movements tracked every second of every day. It’s the price we pay for the convenience of being connected to the digital web via our smartphones. We cheerfully trade away every last shred of privacy for the ability to take selfies of ourselves eating a hamburger, shaving, or petting the dog. We conveniently forget that we are part of a two way connection and that every time we connect to a website, we are being tracked by algorithms designed to generate profits from selling personal information about us to marketing companies.

Connectivity And Marketing

Ever wonder why that set of sheets you shopped for on Amazon this morning is followed by ads for sheets and linens when you go on Facebook in the afternoon? That’s not a coincidence. You are being targeted by companies who make a few fractions of a penny every time they connect you with people hoping to sell you stuff. If someone knocked on your day with a sample case full of sheets, we would be incensed by the intrusion on our privacy and send them away, slamming the door after them. But when it happens online, we don’t bat an eye anymore.

Do you use Apple Car Play or Android Auto? Your musical choices are recorded and tracked. Amazon is set to roll out Amazon Alexa, the digital assistant that listens to every word you say. Vizio televisions collect data on viewer habits, a practice that lead to a $2.2 million fine imposed by the FTC. Samsung “smart TV’s” listen to everything within hearing distance, not just instructions to change the channel or lower the volume. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate what these things mean for the rapidly shrinking sphere of personal privacy should immediately stop reading this and go re-read George Orwell’s 1984. 

Ads On Your Windshield

One of the miracles of the system Porsche is working on is a small projector that will display advertising information on the windshield as you drive. In the near future, ads for free biscuits at the KFC a mile ahead may appear or a Yelp review for that restaurant that just opened. Target could target you with ads for the latest offering from LEGO after overhearing you talking about it with your kids. Home Depot could send you a coupon for a free box of 6d nails for the load bed of your Super Duper Duty pickup it knows you drive.

Soon it will be possible for your spouse’s attorney to know where you really were that night you said you had to work late. Analytics will be able to accurately assess your degree of intoxication based on your speech patterns after an afternoon of sucking down suds at the Dew Drop Inn if you get into an accident on your way home. And don’t think for a minute that the US intelligence community is not interested in collecting as much information as possible about every citizen and their political views from what they say in the “privacy” of their own cars. All of this should be as welcome as visits from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but nobody seems to mind these intrusions into their lives.

The War Between Privacy And Connectivity

In the competition between privacy and connectivity, privacy is the loser every time. As self driving cars make us hungry for new ways to amuse ourselves while driving, more and more people will demand greater connectivity to keep they from being bored out of their skulls as a computer guides them over the river and through the woods. Few if any will ponder the implications that flow from having their every conscious thought collected, collated, analyzed, and stored for future use in perpetuity.

Our desire to be entertained every waking moment opens the door to manipulation by those who either want to sell us stuff or who want to know if we constitute a danger to society because out thoughts do not conform to current standards as defined by our political masters. For those interested in this topic, I heartily recommend Neil Postman’s seminal book, Amusing Ourselves To Death. In the immortal words of Walt Kelly in the comic strip Pogo, “We have met the enemy and they are us.”

Source: AutoBlog     Photo credit: Jim Bauer via / CC BY-ND



Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.