The Privacy Delusion

The Privacy Delusion
by Roger C. Lanctot on 09-28-2016 at 7:00 am

 Why do we think we have privacy in our cars? Why does the government believe there is an interest in preserving privacy in cars? Can we just get over it? One of the least private places known to mankind – outside of the Internet – is the car!

But our transportation regulators in the U.S. and their counterparts at the European Commission cling to the fantasy of automotive privacy. It makes no sense. You sit in a device weighing more than a ton surrounded by glass with a powerful engine that, more often than not, loudly announces its presence.
We drive through camera-equipped intersections and tolling stations and past speed cameras peppered throughout the landscape deluding ourselves that we are somehow below the radar or out of sight. It’s nonsense.

But regulators and the car companies themselves foster this fallacy by promising to protect our privacy at all cost. The latest nonsense effort in this direction is one of the 15 “guidelines” from the U.S. Department of Transportation governing the development of cars capable of automated driving.

The USDOT says car owners should have a clear understanding of what kind of data is being collected by the vehicles. They should also be able to reject any collection of personal information such as biometrics or driver behavior.

This is more naïve nonsense. Any engineer working on self-driving cars today will tell you that these systems must integrate driver monitoring systems. Following the fatal crash of a Tesla Motors Model S in Florida and the latest autopilot software updates from Tesla, this is no longer negotiable. If you take your hands off of the steering wheel in an autopilot-equipped Model S for too long the car will direct you to retake the wheel and if you fail to do so will pull over.

This is not unlike a feature contemplated and being tested by GM, according to the GM Authority newsletter, as part of its Supercruise Level 2 enhanced cruise control – which will monitor driver attention and intervene and slow and stop the car (after an OnStar agent intervention) if the driver fails to respond or is incapacitated. Not only is privacy irrelevant when driving a car, it is dangerous.

Car makers like Tesla – in fact most auto makers – disclose their data collection activities but generally do not provide an opt out capability. Some European auto maker RFQs have included a valet parking function as a form of privacy, but the reality is that the implementation and proliferation of active safety systems will increasingly remove privacy from the equation.

Drivers in autopiloted cars must be monitored. Period.

But there are broader implications to the safety imperative. We are increasingly looking toward an IoT-style driving environment where all vehicles will inform all other vehicles of their presence and heading for the purposes of collision avoidance. No privacy there.

Further, car companies will increasingly be held responsible for being aware of vehicle flaws and failures in real time. Privacy will unquestionably be an impediment to broad communication and collection of diagnostic data in real-time.

So let’s please get over the privacy obsession. When we get in our cars we have unlocked a liberating experience, but we should never be deceived into believing that this experience comes with any privacy privileges or rights.

Also read: The Virus of Car Ownership