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Are smart cars putting our safety at risk?

Kacy Zurkus | March 24, 2015
While the use of technology in smart cars affords consumers a variety of conveniences and luxuries, many don't understand what the implications to their privacy are.

Corman disagreed referencing an investigative report in which auto hacker Craig Smith used a dongle to allow a hacker in New York to hack into a car 3,000 miles away in Seattle. Though Corman agreed that physical safety isn't an imminent threat, he said, "I'd like to rely more on 'they can't' [hack into my car]. I don't want to rely on a hope that they won't."

While the use of technology in smart cars affords consumers a variety of conveniences and luxuries, "many don't understand what the implications [to their privacy] are," Markey contended. In his report, Markey identifies several concerns beyond physical safety.

Scott Morrison agreed that "the car is a powerful data collection point and its connectivity may link it to even more sensitive data than your location, how you drive and what you listen to on the radio." Data is collected in smart cars and is being kept by the automotive industry and can be shared with third parties.

Personal information is more accessible, particularly because computers can see a Bluetooth address which could then be broadcast to the world. Depending on how data is being collected and with whom it is being shared, it is possible, according to Markey's findings, for third parties to "utilize information on drivers' habits for commercial purposes without the drivers' knowledge or consent."

Automotive manufacturers need to be more transparent with the consumer, providing clear and comprehensible facts on how their private information is being tracked and stored. Morrison said, "The [privacy] risk comes around the data: who owns the data and how you create a relationship with who is seeing the data. We need to understand who the custodian is of our private information. One of the biggest challenges we have around data and protection is creating very narrow controls around it."

Some of the uses for that data might protect consumers, such as road side assistance, but there are no clear guidelines on how that collected data can be shared. Morrison explained that "Beyond roadside assistance, one example is seen in the insurance industry. If your automobile is sharing data with the insurance company about your driving habits, such as speed and operations, it can result in a discount or rebate on insurance." While a discounted rate on insurance might save consumers some money, Morrison also pointed out that, "Depending on the application, data shared from your vehicle may connect to or transmit information that includes your Social Security number and address, and that information can be used for fraud or other nefarious purposes."

The conversations about privacy protection are ongoing, but the second part of Markey's report highlights the inconsistencies that exist among the automotive industry. Markey found that, "automakers offer technologies that collect and wirelessly transmit driving history information to data centers, including third-party data centers, and most did not describe effective means to secure the information," and he wanted to know what manufacturers are doing to protect the privacy and physical safety of consumers.


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