Is your car spying on you?

The development of new technology means that nearly everything you do these days requires some sort of computer, and while this does make things…

Image of SatnavThe development of new technology means that nearly everything you do these days requires some sort of computer, and while this does make things easier can we be sure that it is truly safe? Your car can record most aspects of your journey and the ways you and other people drive, however who owns this data and where and when is it used? This is something that concerns many motorists as privacy is sometimes forgotten about.  In a previous blog we have spoken about The Increasing Use of Technology in the Motor Trade Industry and it looks as though it is only going to develop further…

Recently, an increasing amount of insurance companies have started using telematics or ‘black box’ technology and smartphone Apps that can keep an eye on how aggressively you accelerate or how quickly you take corners, for example. This technology has become so advanced that it can even recognise the way other people behave from their driving styles.

Some people believe that these “dashboard nannies” will become standard within the next ten years, however at the moment only 300,000 cars out of the 23 million on the road are fitted with telematics.

Even though this technology is great for reducing premiums (as long as you’re driving meets your insurer’s guidelines) it is also slightly perturbing as the boxes and Apps hold a considerable amount of information concerning where you have been, how you’ve been driving and how many people were in the car.

Rainer Mehl, head of automotive at NTT Data, said: “It’s a totally private topic who you have in your car and where you’ve taken them. I’m not sure customers want this known in all cases.” However, Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicle and services at Ford, said: “We only share mileage information with an insurance company partner at this point, not driver behaviour. We’d tread very carefully in this area.”

The Sat-Nav specialist TomTom recently found themselves in hot water after it was revealed that they had been selling speed and location data to the government. It was claimed that this information would help the government improve road safety, however Dutch police have already begun to install speed cameras where data showed motorists speeding, causing uproar from TomTom’s customers.

Bryan Mistele, chief executive of Inrix, who collect traffic data from around 185million cars worldwide, said: “There are real concerns that personalised data is being sold to governments. All the data we collect is anonymous and we only sell anonymised data. The contracts we have with the car manufacturers require us to protect the privacy of car users, so there’s no personalised data.”

Some companies such as Waze share their anonymous data with the government in exchange for more information on any construction plans, public projects or forthcoming road closures, however Waze has also said that they will never identify the locations of individuals.

Manufacturers already know how worried drivers are about their information being shared due to the connected car era. Rainer Mehl said: “Privacy is the number one priority for big data and the connected car. The industry is starting to treat this issue seriously. Manufacturers need to show that car usage data is un-personalised when it’s gathered. If the customer is happy to share personalised data – for insurance purposes, say – then that’s OK, but it needs to be clear what the situation is.”

Recently, during the exhibition of Jaguar Land Rover’s new connect car ecosystem (InControl Apps) at the Nimbus Ninety Ignite technology summit, Peter Virk claimed that none of the data collected from the system could be compromised. The smart phone connects by USB cable and the apps are then projected onto the digital display. “This means that the end user owns all the data – it’s opt in, not opt out,” he says. “We don’t store any of the data and we’re very transparent about this.”

Likewise, Don Butler from Ford said: “We view ourselves as stewards of that data on the consumer’s behalf – it’s their data and they are entrusting us with it. We always make sure we have informed consent before we share location data.”

Most drivers are now asking whether their in-car systems are beneficial, which is why numerous companies are now advising their customers on how private their data truly is. For example, Inrix are creating a system that could potentially make use of the on-board sensors that most cars are now being fitted with. Bryan Mistele from Inrix said: “We can take headlight, windshield wiper and traction control data and work out if it’s foggy and slippy outside. We can then warn other drivers about the conditions.”

Inrix works alongside many government agencies and helps them to run their road networks more efficiently. “The more data they have the better they can use dynamic traffic light modelling, dynamic congestion charging or dynamic lanes.”

Even though Ford’s Don Butler ruled out the possibility of his company selling aggregated data, he admitted that: “If there are broader societal benefits from sharing aggregated, anonymised data then we would consider that. For example, if a vehicle can broadcast its presence when approaching a junction, why wouldn’t we share that data with other vehicles? It makes sense.”

The technology within cars has developed massively over the past few years and has helped improve driver safety as well as other aspects of driving. However, at the same time this technology is making drivers wary of what information the government may eventually have access to.
Photo by Pixabay

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