The Connected Car – Who’s In The Drivers Seat?

The Connected Car – Who’s In The Drivers Seat?

Today’s modern vehicle has the computing power of 20 personal computers, features about 100 million lines of programming code, and processes as much as 25 gigabytes of data an hour. As more and more high-tech features like adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, parallel parking , navigation and infotainment systems make cars smarter and safer, they are also becoming highly efficient data collection machines that could potentially provide personal and private data to many unwanted people making you vulnerable to privacy abuse.

Typically, a connected car or vehicle has some type of wireless technology built into it that collects and/or share some type of data related to your vehicle. This data can be in the form of  your adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, and tire pressure systems all working together to ensure you are safe behind the wheel. Or it could be the electronic control units used to keep track of almost everything your vehicle does: from how fast you drive to how long your car idles to how suddenly you brake. And if you pair this with a GPS system that keeps track of your exact location and in many cases sends that information to the vehicles manufacturer, or possibly a third-party call center or even an insurance agency, you can see how the connected car could be open to hackers or even abused as a potential data harvesting machines and why privacy policy makers are raising red flags.

While automotive technology has traditionally focused on optimizing the vehicle’s internal functions, attention is now turning to developing the car’s ability to connect with the outside world and enhance the in-car experience. From keyless entry to in-car entertainment to engine controls and car diagnosis many manufactures are building their vehicles around the premise that technology helps drive auto sales. Just recently, several vehicle manufactures have announced new technology available starting 2015 that will detect pedestrians using radar and camera technology and automatically apply the brakes. Chevrolet’s 2016 Malibu will feature a system that lets parents monitor their teen’s driving, providing them with a “report card” of statistics such as the distance their car was driven, the maximum speed it reached and the number of times anti-lock brakes were activated. In addition, Rogers announced that they are planning on rolling out wireless internet access in certain vehicles starting next year.

To put things into perspective, today’s vehicles typically contain more than 50 electronic control units — effectively small computers — that are part of a network in the vehicle. At the same time, nearly all new vehicles on the market today include at least some wireless entry points to these computers, such as tire pressure monitoring systems, Bluetooth, internet access, keyless entry, remote start, navigation systems, WiFi, anti-theft systems , all of which can get accessed without your knowledge. Even though there are no known incidents of car hacking, hackers have successfully shown how they are able to pull up next to a vehicle, hack into the wireless tire pressure signal and disable your breaks.

As our vehicles get more high-tech and connected, they are collecting data on us and sending this personal data to many different parties. For instance, how fast we go, how quickly we break, what music we listen to,  our location and routes taken are all collected and either saved or transferred to other parties — some of this data collection can be argued is in direct violation of the Canadian privacy laws.

While those systems offer “undeniable benefits” to car owners and drivers, the data they generate is extremely valuable to insurers, governments and law enforcement agencies, but can also get abused by companies that might be interested in tracking and profiling users for target marketing and other related purposes.

With that in mind, it seems like some car manufacturers are attempting to mitigate the risks used from wireless technology in their vehicles while others are not. For me, this is where the road forks: instant access to detailed data can be used to keep consumers safe and the environment clean. But it can also be hacked or used to track individuals, or be sold to marketers or other groups who would benefit from knowing the details of your life. Ultimately though, it will come down to specific and relevant governmental laws on data retention and collection in your vehicle where we need to develop industry-specific data protection regulations for the connected car industry.

For anyone looking to get any further information on the connected car you can check out the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association detailed study on privacy and onboard vehicle telematics technology at





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