Self Driving Cars And Privacy Don’t Mix

The Atlantic had an interesting article on self driving cars and the data they will generate.  While there was nothing new there, the piece certainly does point out the rhinoceros head in the corner.

The car will, obviously, know that you leave for work at 7AM every morning and the address of where you work.  But since the car knows that you like coffee, it might suggest that you stop at Peet’s.  Is it suggesting Peet’s because that is a favorite coffee shop of yours?  Or even the nearest one?  Maybe, it is suggesting Peet’s because Peet’s paid your car (or Google, who licenses the software that drives your car, to you) to make that recommendation.  It may even be that Peet’s is a little bit out of the way for you – but not for your car’s checking account balance.

The car may suggest that you pick up your dry cleaning on the way – you probably remember that you asked if there was a dry cleaners on the way to the office.  Yup.  Your car may have gotten paid for that suggestion.  And, your car may sell your dry cleaning habits (like frequency, day of the week, time of day and maybe even the amount) to advertisers so that you will see an ad for dry cleaners on Tuesday morning on the way to the office.

Last June John Simpson, director of the Privacy Project for Consumer Watchdog attended the Google shareholder meeting after buying a couple of shares of Google stock, just to ask the question “what the heck are you going to do with all that data?”.

Google execs looked at each other after he asked the question and said that it would be too early to commit to protecting your privacy because there could be a lot of money at stake.

At least he is honest.  The amount of money could be huge for whoever controls that – likely the reason that Google is investing millions of dollars in their self driving car project.

While being bombarded by ads is not the end of the world – that is what we have today, the self driving car knows a lot more than that.

It knows where your toddler’s day care is.

It knows where your kid’s school is.

It knows what time you drop off your kid and when you pick your kid up.

That might be valuable data for a pedophile or a kidnapper.

It also knows if you have a lover on the side.  Unless you take an Uber to get there.  Oh, wait, Uber is collecting that data as well.  Maybe you should take the Metro.  Oh, wait, the MiFare card tracks what station you get on at and get off as well.  Always the same time on Wednesday night.  Hmmm.

While I assume that Google won’t advertise the availability of your data to a pedophile, my guess is that their ability to identify those people or willingness to lose the money may be questionable.

Obviously, that data could be available to government agencies.  While it could take a subpoena to force the self driving car company to give them the data, they could voluntarily give it to them as well, in the absence of any contract to the contrary.

While we still have some time before we are all driving Google cars, it is probably not too early to start thinking about it.

Information for this post came from The Atlantic.

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