The Washington Post considers the privacy implications for drivers who would use new cars that are connected to the Internet. Automobiles are the latest entrant into the “Internet of Things,” which is a computerized network of physical objects. In IoT, sensors and data storage devices embedded in objects interact with Web services. (For more on privacy and the IoT, see a Center for Democracy and Technology report that I consulted on and contributed to, “Building the Digital Out-Of-Home Privacy Infrastructure.”) The Post reports:
BARCELONA — Cars will soon be so linked into wireless networks they will be like giant rolling smartphones — with calling systems, streaming video, cameras and apps capable of harnessing the unprecedented trove of data vehicles will produce about themselves and the humans who drive them.
The battle over who can access all this data is an awkward undercurrent amid recent announcements by car manufacturers touting their new, Internet-capable vehicle systems. […]
Cars have long gathered data to monitor safety and performance. But their newfound connectivity may allow a range of parties — automakers, software developers, perhaps even police officers — new access to such information, privacy advocates say. Because few U.S. laws govern these issues, consumers have little control over who can see this data and how it can be used.
More than 60 percent of vehicles worldwide will be connected directly to the Internet by 2017, up from 11 percent last year, predicts ABI Research. In North America and Europe, that percentage is likely to reach 80 percent.
Many cars already record their speed, direction and gear setting, as well as when brakes activate and for how long. Newer systems also can track whether road surfaces are slick or whether the driver is wearing a seat belt — information potentially valuable to police and insurance companies investigating crashes. (Some car insurance companies already monitor driving behavior in exchange for discounted rates.) […]
Such issues go beyond vehicles. Many of the nearly 1,500 exhibits at the Mobile World Congress touted technology fueled by personal information. Thermostats, health sensors, even Dumpsters, can function better, according to companies exhibiting their products here, if individual behavior is tracked. […]
There are few legal standards for what information a vehicle can collect, how it can be used and by whom. Each manufacturer produces its own onboard Internet systems, each with specific rules that few consumers review and even fewer understand, said privacy experts. […]
Yet experts say that in the absence of strong national privacy laws, valuable data often leaks out. Any information produced by a vehicle and transmitted over the Internet ends up on servers, making it a potential target for authorities, lawyers engaged in court cases or hackers. Companies also can make some data available to app developers in pursuit of better products for customers.