March 6, 2020

AZ Big Media

Should you worry about your car collecting personal information?

Privacy concerns have become one of the major issues that have risen alongside technology’s advancement. From Facebook getting into hot water due to a data breach to First American leaking hundreds of millions of mortgage deals, people are increasingly becoming worried about how companies are handling personal information.

The same concern has been expressed about car manufacturers and the waves of connected cars that are being sold in the world market. These new vehicles can collect information through various parts such as Ford Expedition accessories like dashboards and gauges.

Automakers can then use this information as they see please or may even opt to share them with third parties. Worse still is that consumers are agreeing to this deal. Or, at least, that’s what auto manufacturers are pushing forward.

With this on the table, should we be worried where things are heading? Let’s look at the negative aspect first.

What Kind of Information is Your Car Collecting?

While companies like General Motors promise that they’re using their collected data to improve car safety, they don’t provide transparency on how exactly they’re complying on privacy laws. According to a 2018 report by CBS News, driver data could become a trillion-dollar industry by 2030 as it provides a clear window of how people are behaving behind the wheel. That’s a massive boon for advertisers and insurance companies.

For instance, an automaker can market a restaurant to a driver depending on where he’s usually parked and the route he’s frequently taking. An insurance company might increase a driver’s collision insurance if he’s been frequenting high-risk locations or increase his liability rates if the data shows he’s been driving fast.

Apart from relevant driving data, car manufacturers can also pull other information from a person such as messages and photos once they connect their phone to the vehicle. Contact information, web browsing history, and the driver’s weight are also up for grabs.

Geoffrey A. Fowler, a tech columnist from Washington Post, published a piece about driving surveillance and shed some light on how much data is being gathered by auto manufacturers. Alongside a volunteer and Caltech-trained engineer Jim Mason, they conducted a forensic analysis and found the car has been collecting locations, emails, pictures, and addresses. And that’s only scratching the surface.

A Comprehensive Legal Framework

The good news is that policymakers are currently creating laws to protect the privacy of consumers by requiring car manufacturers to disclose the information they’ve gathered. They will also be compelled why they are collecting the data and who they are sharing it with.

However, there’s no denying that the efforts of lawmakers have room for improvement. In the Mobley vs State case, authorities managed to acquire the Event Data Recorder – also known as the car’s black box – after the defendant was involved in a vehicular accident. While some information within the black box may be significant to the case, other sensitive data that the car has collected may be considered as a breach of privacy on the defendant’s end.

But as mentioned earlier, driving surveillance also has its advantages as it can drastically improve road safety for everyone. A face monitoring system, for instance, can detect if a person is driving distractedly or if he’s drowsy behind the wheel.

The system can then set off an alarm to alert the driver of his current condition, snapping him out of his distracted state and refocusing his attention on the road. And that’s just one aspect.

A Smart Co-Pilot

Driver data can also help car manufacturers better understand the emotion inside a car by analyzing patterns and facial expressions.

One of the possible results from this collected information is the development of a smart co-pilot that can influence a person’s emotions to bring it down to a calmer state. Stanford communication and sociology researcher Clifford Nass is one of the many researchers who’s looking into the matter.

So far, the study that’s been conducted found that giving the system with a reproachful voice has a negative impact on the person’s emotion. On this end, a sympathetic co-pilot is more effective as it connects with a driver on an empathic level. But again, this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

The system’s voice should also take into consideration the location, gender, sentences used, age, and other factors. All of this can only be gleaned by collecting driver data.

So far, the balance seems to fall between respecting the consumer’s private information and car manufacturers being transparent with what they’re doing with the data they’ve compiled. The public should also put pressure on policymakers to create a comprehensive legal framework regarding vehicle privacy and compel manufacturers to follow these guidelines.

With 5G networks just around the corner, cars will be able to collect more driver data with ease, which means people should be more vigilant than ever. At the end of the day, it will be up to the consumers how they’ll protect their personal information as the middle ground between safety and privacy isn’t going to be achieved anytime soon.