Self-Driving Cars Raise Privacy Concerns

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As automakers and technology companies race to deliver self-driving and driverless cars to market, motorist associations and privacy advocates fear they’re leaving something behind: protecting consumer privacy.

“It is a data mine of where we go and what’s happening as cars pass us by,” said Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court.

Consumer advocates say they welcome the advent of this new technology but they have big concerns about all that information being collected and how it will be used.

“Consumers should have total control over the data but Google and car makers will resist that because they know the money’s in the data,” Court said.

Consumer Watchdog says it doesn’t have much confidence in the government’s new approach of issuing guidelines while the self-driving industry is emerging. Nevertheless, this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a 15-point guideline for automakers. Topping the list: data sharing — “for the purposes of recording the occurrence of malfunctions, degradations or failures in a way that can be used to establish the cause of any such issues.” And second, privacy — manufacturers “should take steps to protect consumer privacy.”

“Data will become the most valuable commodity in the driverless car revolution and we have to give individuals absolute control not to have data sharing beyond the operation of the vehicle,” Court said.

The nonprofit organization Consumer Watchdog bought some shares of Google so it could attend its shareholders meeting and last year it tried to get Google executives to commit to protecting consumer privacy.

“I think it’s pretty early in the game with driverless cars and the uses that they can be put to benefit users to have a lot of rules saying ‘thou shall not do x, y and z with the data… It’s a little early to be drawing all those kinds of conclusions which would in a lot of ways reduce innovation,” said Google Capital Chair David Drummond.

Collected information could go to insurers who could get an accurate picture of what happens versus what drivers say happens and where they go.

“It’s going to be very important that insurers have access on reasonable terms to data that comes out of an accident to determine what exactly happened,” said Property Casualty Insurers Association of America Assistant Vice President Bob Passmore.

Information collected and privacy could become issues for state lawmakers to address.

“As cars become more technologically advanced, and we see that every year with new models, we also see the prospect of trying to protect the data that exists. And there’s always a debate about how much that data is truly private and how much of that data should be made available, at least to law enforcement,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

The federal government supports humans having the ability to reject any collection of personal information such as on biometrics. The National Motorists Association has concerns about vehicles collecting information on driver behavior.

“As long as that data can’t be used personally against you, then anonymous use can be OK. You also have to trust the people involved with the data to see that that’s happening. So we’re talking government involvement so you have to wonder,” said National Motorists Association New Jersey Chapter Coordinator Steve Carrellas.

Another robotic debate over privacy in a quest for safer roads and eliminating human mistakes.

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