Back in the 80s, some pop band put out an earworm of a tune with the refrain, “I always feel like somebody’s watching me.” That may not mean that you’re paranoid, though, because the odds are that somebody actually is watching you. But it’s not a person in this case… it’s your car. While I was aware that certain bits of data were probably being used and possibly even stored in modern car computers, this article from Peter Holley at the Washington Post exposes the extent of the data collection and distribution going on.
The example they focus on is a guy named Daniel Dunn who leased a Honda in California in 2017 and noticed that his contract included an agreement that the company could track the location of his vehicle using the onboard GPS system. While Dunn agreed to it and has “made peace with the idea,” the amount of data that Honda can not only collect but sell on the open market, is more than a bit disturbing.
Though drivers may not realize it, tens of millions of American cars are being monitored like Dunn’s, experts say, and the number increases with nearly every new vehicle that is leased or sold.
The result is that carmakers have turned on a powerful spigot of precious personal data, often without owners’ knowledge, transforming the automobile from a machine that helps us travel to a sophisticated computer on wheels that offers even more access to our personal habits and behaviors than smartphones do.
“The thing that car manufacturers realize now is that they’re not only hardware companies anymore — they’re software companies,” said Lisa Joy Rosner, chief marketing officer of Otonomo, a company that sells connected-car data, sharing the profits with automakers. “The first space shuttle contained 500,000 lines of software code, but compare that to Ford’s projection that by 2020 their vehicles will contain 100 million lines of code. These vehicles are becoming turbocharged spaceships if you think of them from a purely horsepower perspective.”
What sort of data can the manufacturer assemble from your GPS? They can hone in on your driving habits, how often you exceed the speed limit, where you like to shop or go out to eat… and all of that information is tied to your real name, financial data and contact information. This might have remained one of those stories which only suggests possible bad behavior were it not for the fact that the WaPo is quoting somebody from a data firm which is already selling this information to advertisers and splitting the profits with the automakers.
Where else might that data go? We’ve been following a number of stories involving Supreme Court cases asking whether or not law enforcement can access data about your movement from your cell phone provider. It sounds like they could do the same thing using the stored GPS info in your car if they contact the manufacturer. For the record, I’m not opposed to law enforcement doing that if they have a warrant, but selling off a record of your movements to telemarketers is fairly outrageous.
So your phone and your car are both spying on everything you do and ratting you out. At this point I can’t blame you if you’re wondering… what next? No need to wait, citizens. The answer is already here. Thanks to the Internet of Things, your refrigerator is already tracking what you’re doing and will be preemptively preparing shopping lists and menus for you. What’s the harm, right? I mean, it’s just going to help you avoid drinking spoiled milk. But if it knows what you’re buying and how often, don’t you think there would be a buyer for that data as well?
Sleep tight, boys and girls.