Cars and Privacy
24 Nov 2021 | Rozsano V. Ayson
In today’s modern world, appliances, gadgets, and other devices are constantly undergoing changes. Many are now being infused with smart technologies, whether they be phones, watches, entire homes, and even vehicles.
The automotive industry is among those frequently influenced by emerging technologies. This has led to the constant redefinition of cars as the years go by. For starters, they now don’t rely exclusively on fuel anymore. Some are already powered by electricity, while others are referred to as hybrids. From their manufacture, all the way up to their operation and maintenance, cars encounter many more transformations. Different features keep getting added like those affecting their electrical, safety, entertainment, and navigational functions. They include smartphone integration, voice and gesture recognition, infotainment systems, in-car cameras or some other type of monitoring system. Working together, they all aim to make the driving (and riding) experience safer, more convenient, and even fun. They do this by increasing driver assistance, passenger safety, and improving route generation. They also facilitate internet connectivity and assist in such novel functions like self-parking and cruise control. Managing them is a computer box that covers the entire system. It tends to collect and create a lot of data that help maximize the use of all these different new features.
Unfortunately, all these slick new elements can also lead to negative consequences, particularly privacy intrusions. After all, there is basically a complex surveillance operation going on when all activities that occur in a vehicle are being monitored and even recorded. They include the trove of information you may have on your smartphone or some other device you choose to connect to your car’s onboard computer. As a driver, it’s like having an additional passenger or third party becoming intimately familiar with your voice, location, and driving behavior. Now, while a lot of the data collection seems necessary in order to ensure the efficient operation of the vehicle and its added features, this doesn’t make the system any less disturbing. In this type of situation, you are never entirely sure who gets to access your information and the extent they are being used for other unknown purposes.
Obtaining protection for one’s privacy while managing to enjoy the convenience and relative safety offered by the very technologies that threaten it is always a challenging task. But it’s a problem that consumers need not confront alone. The auto industry, as well as regulators, should be equally burdened with such dilemma. The duty to protect the right to privacy is fundamental, as is the need to keep technologies in line and consistent with existing regulations.
Car manufacturers can start by being more transparent about their data collection and processing activities. Maybe for some key features, getting the explicit prior consent of owners or drivers is possible before the data processing activities commence. This necessarily means allowing that same consent to be withdrawn any time. For the rest of the data processing operations, if they are absolutely necessary to the proper functioning of the vehicle, there must at least be enough security in place to keep the collected data protected.
Regulators, for their part, can come up with new or updated policies and guidelines, while putting up proper monitoring mechanisms. Meanwhile, consumers should also do some due diligence when making purchases, especially when it comes to vehicles that now have all these advanced new tools and features. They should also not hesitate to assert their rights to their data, if or when they feel it is being used in an unlawful or inappropriate manner.
As cars and transportation, as a whole, continue to evolve, it’s just a matter of time before all these advancements become tomorrow’s default. At the same time, though, it seems people are keener to take their right to privacy more seriously. In order to achieve a proper balance, both the industry and consumers must work together and make sure convenience, safety, and privacy are never compromised.