Once all our cars can talk to each other, what will they reveal about us?

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Wed Sep 5 04:53:04 PDT 2012


Once all our cars can talk to each other, what will they reveal about us?

In the future, cars will be networked, personalized, and connected to the
cloud. The laws protecting personal data collected from these cars? Still
largely road kill.

By Dan Tynan  4 comments

September 03, 2012, 1:28 PM b Last week I had the pleasure of attending the
IFA 2012 consumer electronics show in Berlin as a guest of the IFA
organizers. When not drinking Pilsner and eating bratwurst I managed to
squeeze in a panel on the future of the car, featuring representatives from
Ford, Microsoft, Inrix (the leading provider of aggregated traffic data to
onboard GPS systems), and TuneIn Radio, makers of a music app for cars. I
also interviewed Pim van der Jagt, a managing director for Ford Europe.

Bottom line? In a few short years our cars will be connected and talking to
each other. They will also be able to collect vast amounts of data about who
we are, where we go, and what we do. Some of these things will undoubtedly
make our vehicles much safer; some may erase what little roadside privacy we
have left.

This is more than just Jetsons-like fantasy. Last month the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and eight major car manufacturers
launched a year-long test of car-to-car communications in Ann Arbor. Some
2800 cars, trucks, and city buses have been equipped with gear that will
broadcast their size, speed, and location to each other as they roll down the
road, using a special band of WiFi spectrum reserved for vehicle-to-vehicle
communications. If another car gets too close or a pedestrian suddenly steps
into the intersection, drivers receive an alert and can react accordingly.

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Some 70 percent of all accidents can be avoided if cars are networked, says
van der Jagt. But thatbs really just the beginning. Technology already exists
that would allow your carbs computer to take control of the brakes and
accelerator to avoid a collision, or to moderate the speed of each car to
keep traffic flowing. And while webre still a long ways away from being able
to climb into the backseat and take a nap while our cars drive us to our
destination (sorry Google Car fans), systems that can take the wheel during
certain situations - like when stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic -- are
likely to appear much sooner, says van der Jagt. The only question is whether
drivers would be willing to hand the wheel over to their computer.

Because the cars in the Ann Arbor test only need to know the location of
other vehicles within 300 meters, therebs no need to connect to the Internet
or record your carbs location, says van der Jagt. And since the system
doesnbt collect any data from the carbs registration or VIN, therebs no way
for Ford or anyone else to know who you are and where youbre going, he adds.

But thatbs just one aspect of the connected car. The car of the future will
also be personalized. It will be able to tell who just climbed behind the
wheel and adjust the seats, mirrors, environmental controls, and radio
stations accordingly. Using your smart phone, it will be able to connect to
your data in the cloud, download your Outlook calendar, remind you about your
next meeting, calculate when youbll get there, and send an email to other
attendees if youbre running late. It will know the music you like to listen
to, the routes you like to take each day and how fast you drive to get there.
Van der Jagt says Ford is even working on sensors built into the seats that
can monitor your heart rate to determine if youbre about to fall asleep at
the wheel or just had a heart attack. For those features, the car (and its
various mobile service providers) will definitely need to know who you are
and where you are.

The question then becomes, what happens to all this data? At this point,
Inrix collects all its traffic data anonymously, and Ford and Microsoftbs
philosophy is the customer owns the data. But exactly what that means is
unclear. Are identity and location data stored, and if so, by whom and for
how long? What other entities will have access to this information? Will the
cops demand this data in order to nab speeders? And what about companies that
want to monetize that data b like an insurance company that offers discounts
for good drivers while penalizing those who put the pedal to the metal on a
semi-regular basis, as Progressive Insurance already does via its bblack boxb
electronic data recorders? Whatbs to keep a mobile service provider from
selling that data to the highest bidders?

Webve already seen what happens with cell phone data thatbs collected by the
wireless companies: Police made more than 1.3 million requests for location
data last year alone, roughly two thirds of them in non-emergency situations.
It was up to the wireless companiesb attorneys to determine whether those
requests would be honored and their customersb location data shared. Federal
courts have recently ruled that sharing such data without a warrant is not a
violation of our Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure.
And while commercial use of location data is still in its infancy, in part
because wireless companies fear a privacy backlash, that wonbt last forever.
That data too could be a target of law enforcement requests.

If the tests in Ann Arbor prove successful, car-to-car networking is likely
to be mandated by NHTSA b and may appear in cars as early as 2018. The notion
of cloud-connected cars is less certain, but also seems inevitable. The
question will be whether we will gain the legal right to control how our car
data is used, or if the mobile service companies will be the ones with their
hands firmly on the wheel.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the
answer (and if not, hebll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally
NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT
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