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Once your car's connected to the Internet, who guards your privacy?

Lucas Mearian | Sept. 19, 2014
Once mobile devices are connected to car infotainment systems and cars are connected to the Internet, vehicles will become a rich source of data for manufacturers, marketers, insurance providers and the government. Oh, and they'll be a lucrative target for hackers, too.

With almost 54 million wearable devices shipped last year according to ABI Research, wearables have already caught the attention of the automotive industry. The first commercial launch of a wearables-compatible vehicle will be the 2015 Hyundai Genesis, which will be compatible with the Google Glass.

"It's a big problem. Security concerns have been around for desktops and smartphones for a long time, but all of a sudden the car industry has to take care of that same issue," Bonte said.

Some automakers have been demonstrating smartwatch-connected vehicles. That list includes GM, Volvo, Nissan, Mercedes and BMW.

But it's not just the car manufacturers that are hoping to get a glimpse into your driving habits.

Opt-in insurance programs, such as Progressive Insurance's SnapShot and State Farm's InDrive, use OBD-II dongles to transmit information about your driving habits in exchange for lower rates.

"They're trying to identify the 10% of drivers that are 10 times worse than anyone else. If you are one of those... they're going to tell you you're not welcome here," said Roger Lanctot, an associate director at research firm Strategy Analytics. "They're all trying to adopt that model."

The privacy problem goes beyond the confines of the car and has now entered the home, said Lanctot, noting that companies like Nest Labs, which is now part of Google, hope to offer systems that give people remote control of their homes' appliances and HVAC, lighting and security systems from the comfort of their cars.

He went on to note that other innovations that could be used to collect data include automotive cameras that will not just face outward, but also inward to support gesture-based interfaces that enable drivers to swipe the air with their hands to control their infotainment systems or smartphone heads-up displays.

"Cameras are also coming into cars, because autonomous vehicles will have to monitor the driver," Lanctot said. "Cameras are changing the game. Cameras have been fascinating to me because it's a relatively innocuous technology, but it's having a huge impact where third parties can suddenly see all around the car. For example, vehicle self-parking is the 900-lb. gorilla."

Access to your data?

Along with offering up access to your mobile data and insights into your Web-surfing habits, automobile manufacturers are interested in retrieving data from your vehicle's powertrain control module, also known as the engine control unit (ECU). The ECU controls and monitors everything from steering and braking to acceleration, and it can provide a valuable vehicle profile for manufacturers to improve products by determining flaws in current models.

The ECU is connected to various systems in a vehicle through the controller area network (CAN), another point of access to the car's inner workings.


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