As AVs Rev Up, the Data Privacy Fight Could Shift to Your Car
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whether or not you have a companion, bank account information, age, and dozens of other data points. Gottehrer can envision an Orwellian scenario in which your car knows if you’re driving through certain neighborhoods at certain times of the night, which may lead to extrapolations about the rider’s interest in drugs or prostitution that could then be reported to an employer, law enforcement, or an insurance company. Someone could even program a car to notify the police if certain words are spoken, she says.
“What inferences can be drawn and sold?” Gottehrer asks.
Data monitoring and weaponization already occurs in fleet operations, she says, and she mentions a possible scenario in which a fleet driver visits a cancer clinic on their lunch hour and then gets fired because the presumption is that the driver is sick. Another example: data shows the fleet vehicle parked outside of a bar for a few hours, so the driver is suspected of abusing alcohol and loses their job. What keeps Gottehrer up at night is the idea of this vehicle-derived information making its way into court and being used against people to paint specific pictures of their lives.
But the data could also be used to help people in court. “There have been murder cases where people are acquitted by the information from their car,” she says.
Gottehrer thinks we’ll see more lawsuits around vehicle data breaches in the future, or cyber insurance that spells out who has the responsibility to protect vehicle data—or the liability if something goes wrong. “Companies want to own and monetize data, but then they have a duty to protect it,” she adds.
The threat of nefarious hackers breaking into an AV’s computer and causing it to, for example, drive off a cliff is definitely something that automakers take seriously, she says. But she sees data privacy as the more imminent concern.
As cars grow more sophisticated and tech-enabled, safety and quality-of-life enhancements will undoubtedly benefit the public. People with limited personal mobility will have much greater freedom and independence; shared vehicle networks should cut pollution and congestion; and a vehicle’s biometric sensors might be able to stop drunk people from driving, or tired drivers from falling asleep.
“There are tremendous benefits to autonomous vehicles, but where is the data going?” Gottehrer wonders. “Who is it getting resold to? We can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s all data about people’s lives.”
Just like the social media business model, if an in-car service is free, “you’re the product,” Gottehrer points out. Consumers may be willing to pay a premium to protect their data privacy, but first they must grasp the scope of the issue.