Is your car spying on you - if not it will be soon
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CARS-SPYING: A new generation of cars is on the way - and they will know all your driving secrets, reports Olivia Rudgard at CES in Las Vegas
At the dawn of the automobile age, drivers were cajoled into buying cars solely because they were attractive, or fun to drive, or had features like leather seats and a good sound system.Now, those innocent days are over.
At CES, the world’s biggest tech show, household names are promoting their latest models not on what they look like, or what they’re like to drive, but the quality of their app store, voice assistance and AI.
Cars update automatically with new features without going anywhere near a mechanic or factory. And drivers can download features which let them shop, order food and read the news from their dashboard.
But while these intelligent cars have been designed to make our lives easier, they have also helped companies collect vast amounts of data on us.
They can track everything from a vehicle’s location, the local weather, how fast you drive, what songs you like to listen to and even, on some models, the weight of passengers.
BMW is showing off cars at CES with an intelligent assistant which learns a driver’s favourite radio stations, preferred heat settings and the routes they often take, sending traffic updates if it looks like they are somewhere they frequently go, even if the navigation system is turned off. Drivers receive two automatic remote software updates each year.
Last year Ford acquired Autonomic, a start-up which uses the cloud to allow companies to provide services to drivers via their in-car software.
The companies collecting driver information argue that their services are used to help consumers - personalisation can be improved, lost cars can be found, the cause of crashes can be determined.
Connected cars also have potential benefits for pedestrians.Proponents see a future where driver-assist systems, enabled by the superfast 5G internet due to roll out across the US this year, would communicate with the phones of people crossing the road, preventing accidents.
A sign advertises 5G at the Qualcomm booth at the CES International Exhabition in Las Vegas this week. Picture/AP.
Companies are wide-eyed about the possibilities of the connected world.
“Everything that can be connected will be,” said Verizon’s Melissa Glidden Tye at a CES session.
GDPR means European consumers can have some reassurance that they will have control over what their data is being used for. It also gives you the right to have your information deleted, and also to be able to port it yourself, which raises questions over how whose responsibility this is, and how easily you would be able to move it to a new car company.
European brands may have an advantage here - BMW says all its cars worldwide are GDPR-compliant, even for consumers outside the EU.But there are concerns.
“As there is now a technology war developing in terms of new car models, with each one trying to offer more connected features, it does beg the question whether the implications of all that data collection and use have been properly thought through,” says Rafi Azim-Khan, head of data privacy Europe for Pillsbury Law.
Car insurers have long been using driver data to determine insurance premiums, particularly for young drivers.
“Black box” technology is well established in the UK, with almost a million drivers allowing their habits to be tracked via either a device installed in their car or an app on their mobile phone.
Paul Stacy, of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which operates a neutral server with a database of driving and vehicle information used to provide insurance quotes, said that in Europe, driving scores are mostly still based on black-box telematics.
“While there are some cars that are connected, that do have that data, we’re not satisfied that the right consents are in place for us to be able to do it up to GDPR,” he said.
Some manufacturers did not ask buyers to sign the right forms, especially if the car was bought before the privacy laws came in, and the numbers that have are too small to make it financially viable.
But things are moving quickly.
“By 2025, 100pc of new cars will be connected in Europe,” he said. “We are talking to vehicle manufacturers at the moment and they’re saying ‘every single make and model that we sell next year will be connected’."
Cars will be able to do what smartphones do now. In a deal announced last year with mapping company Mapbox, Porsche drivers will be offered context about the routes they are using, including information about nearby restaurants, as well as the ability to share their route and arrival time with others.
Alex Barth, the company’s head of automotive, says the technology could eventually feed data back to improve mapping systems, including information about lane use, travel times and stop signs.
He said: “People don’t understand how much a car is going to be like a mobile phone.”
Other companies are looking at how this data can be monetised. British social network DriveTribe recently announced it was shifting its business model to connect users with companies offering motoring services, based on the data they had provided about their cars.
The only data it collects is user-provided, from market research-style surveys and information about the cars members own.
Jonathan Morris, the chief executive, says the company is also looking at partnerships with companies that collect driving data, such as location information, and sentiment data - how people feel while driving their car.
Millennials engage on an emotional level with driving, the company’s data suggests, and it plans to use wearables to see how driving makes people feel.
Connected cars are also likely to end up connected to the Internet of Things, not known for having a consistent commitment to data security.
In some recent cases, cars with keyless entry have been hacked and unlocked by thieves. If a car is linked up to software which allows it to be parked or even driven remotely, this may be exploited.
A raft of start-ups have begun to address this problem, as well as the UK’s government-backed organisation Meridian, which believes there needs to be much more attention on the security data sent between cars and smart-city infrastructure.
There are other issues as cars become smart entertainment systems. China-based electric car start-up Byton opened the conference on Sunday with its SUV, due to go into production this year, which is full of screens.
The interior of the Byton SUV. Picture/AP.
They say the system has been “intensively tested” against driver distraction and streaming will not be allowed.
Car companies generally remove the capability to watch TV while the car is being driven, but this is open to abuse, warns Azim-Khan, bringing “a whole host of additional regulatory concern”.
Much of this technology appears to be working towards a world in which human drivers aren’t needed at all.
In the driverless age, concerns about distraction will no longer be relevant, and passengers will be hands-free and able to shop, swipe and stream to their heart’s content.
Cars’ ability to “talk” to one another, via vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems, will be crucial to autonomy.
That utopian vision depends on the success of the companies working to put driverless cars on the road. But in the meantime, cars will continue to get smarter - even while drivers remain boringly, and fallibly, human.
- The Daily Telegraph