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Connected cars could create a privacy problem, advocates warn

Through his vehicle, Matt Michela shows reporter Matt Gephardt how he can access personal files and messages - and how the vehicle knows its precise geo-location, which roads he takes and even how how fast he drives.

(KUTV) — As 2News photographer Matt Michela races to breaking news in his company-issued live truck, he is connected. The vehicle is linked to his phone, which is linked to the internet.

Through his vehicle, he shows Get Gephardt how he can access personal files and messages — and how the vehicle knows its precise geo-location, which roads he takes and even how fast he drives.

Internet connectivity is a feature that comes in most new cars — in some cases whether the owner asks for it, or not. Thirty-two out of 44 vehicle brands now offer some kind of wireless data connection.

More cars are also coming equipped with cameras. Their lenses are usually facing outside the vehicle, but some face inside and even point at the driver.

All those cameras, looking at you, looking at the roads you drive, and connected to the internet are not sitting well with some consumer privacy advocates, like Consumer Reports auto expert Jake Fisher.

“A lot of data is being collected to help automakers prepare for self-driving cars,” he said. “It’s a machine learning-process. They’re using your data to map the roads and better understand how vehicles and people are going to react on those roads.”

The legal rules around car data are murky, Fisher says. For example, if you get in a crash then, by law, you own any crash data your car may have collected. But crash data is a very small fraction of all the data your car is generating.

The auto industry has issued voluntary guidelines around privacy practices, but Fisher said he would like to see more regulation and greater transparency, with car companies forced to be up-front about what they are collecting.

“Consumers shouldn’t be put in a position where they have to search for what information is being gathered about them, how it’s being gather and what it’s being used for,” he said.

Consumers Union, which is the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, says it would also like to see drivers have the option to refuse to let car companies collect data on them.

Get Gephardt found that privacy behind the wheel is also getting the attention of federal regulators. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Highway Traffic Highway Safety Administration held a joint-workshop to talk about how are cars "generate an enormous amount of data, some of which will be personal and sensitive," and what should be done to regulate it.

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