The Connected Car and Your Privacy

Not only are vehicles getting smarter, all manner of onboard devices are getting smarter and cheaper.

Many of them collecting data so they can deliver more features and provide a better experience for the driver and passengers. Everything from navigation, audio, engine monitoring systems are collecting data in real time and in some instances not only storing data but uploading data.

For commercial vehicles, the list is even longer. And often it’s not just about collecting data it can also be about controlling features, you don’t get your USB stereo on your Volvo truck enabled without paying for it. During Hurricane Irma, Tesla came to the party increasing the range of vehicles over the air if owners had gone with the cheaper kWh option. Data collection under the guise of better safety, more efficient operation and money in the pocket is a great sell. And we’re sold.

The technology is getting smarter and more pervasive. By monitoring mundane tasks, a massive amount of personal information can include everything from how you drive, how much fuel you use, what you listen to, where you go.

Personal data combined with public data can determine where you shop, work, where you like to eat, you get the picture. Personal data is often collected without owners’ knowledge, transforming the car from a machine that helps us get around to a computer that gives access to our habits and behaviours. And you were worried about your phone?

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Connecting cars to computers is nothing new. Vehicles have relied on some form of a smart system since the 1970s, mostly simple systems that remind drivers to check their engines. What’s changed in recent years is not only what data is being collected but how it’s being used and uploaded to centralised storage.

When you’re a buying brand new car with all the bells and whistles and signing on the dotted line, you’re probably not going to spend much time looking at the small print. What data is collected, where it’s going, who’s going to be holding it, who’s it shared with and how it might be used.

Many uses for data will be benign. Aggregate data will help inform where to place charging stations, where traffic has come to a standstill, where the next billboard could go, number of passengers, battery level and the distance to the nearest charging station, etc.

It’s become a lot clearer why the big tech companies want to get alongside you up front. It’s an untapped part of an individual’s daily data profile. And they know full well the more data they collect, the more value they can extract when it comes to monetising that data.