“cars [are] the official worst category of products for privacy that we have ever reviewed”
🚗 “Ah, the wind in your hair, the open road ahead, and not a care in the world… except all the trackers, cameras, microphones, and sensors capturing your every move. Ugh. Modern cars are a privacy nightmare.” Mozilla
In today’s world, our cars are smart devices on wheels and the LA Times just called them "Wire Taps on Wheels." These often AI-powered systems rely heavily on data, including where you go, how fast you drive, and even how you’re feeling. Now, with both external and internal-facing cameras becoming standard features, the data grab potential is downright invasive.
Cameras not only guide your parking but may also be capturing your conversations or even your mood. I don’t know about you, but my car is parked in my garage - so the inner workings of my home are exposed to it. Given this situation and the growing use of AI fueled by all this data, it’s crucial to understand who has access to this intimate insight into your life and how they are using it.
Your Data, Your Life
Think of how your car reroutes you around traffic jams, automatically moves to your saved seat position, or remembers your favorite radio stations. These features rely on large volumes of data—everything from your location to your driving style.
Eye-Opening Mozilla Study
In a recent study by Mozilla, the findings were unsettling. Of 25 car brands surveyed, 19 openly state that they can sell your personal data. Half will even share your information with government or law enforcement just on a “request,” no court order needed. Only Renault and Dacia, which are not available in North America, offer the option to delete your data.
Who's In the Passenger Seat
Consider the implications of sharing your information with third-party companies or even government authorities. With automakers partnering with AI providers, our personal data is a goldmine for advertisers, governmental agencies, and anyone else who buys your data.
As an example, your car’s AI-powered advertising partner could sell services to a nearby grocery store. It knows from your GPS and shopping history that you frequently visit this store. As you drive by, you suddenly get a notification on your car’s display offering you a special discount on items you often purchase. While this may seem convenient, it also signifies that your driving habits and shopping preferences have been analyzed and shared.
Secure Your Ride
Increased data also brings increased risks of a data breach. The more interconnected our cars, the greater the risk that bad actors could gain unauthorized access. Imagine a hacker exploiting a vulnerability in your car’s AI system to gain control of your vehicle remotely, locking the doors and rerouting you to an unknown destination. It sounds like something from a thriller movie, but the potential is real.
Steering in the Right Direction
AI-enabled automobiles are here to stay so it’s vital that we address personal data responsibly. What can we do to steer the industry in the right direction? Here are some practical recommendations:
Data Transparency: Transparency shouldn’t be a luxury; it’s a must. Consumers deserve to know what data is collected and for what purposes.
User Consent: Today, there is NO CONSENT. This is unacceptable. We need an opt-in model. This ensures consumers consciously agree to share their data.
Limiting Government Access: Any access to personal data by government or law enforcement should require a court order, not merely a “request.”
Anonymization: When data is stored, it should be anonymized. This means that even if the data is accessed, individual identities remain protected.
These are not just ideals; they’re actionable requirements to align technological advancements with personal security. As consumers, we have the power to drive change by advocating for these principles. Let’s make sure technology serves us, not the other way around.