Privacy Concerns

One concern with self-driving technology is privacy and how protected riders’ privacy will actually be in these future cars. Self-driving cars will operate through the use of cameras and detailed GPS systems, and technology will be fully integrated in these vehicles.

If you own your own vehicle, it will likely link up to your smartphone or other device and have the ability to communicate with your schedule, email, and other electronically stored information. How much information will your car save? Will it record and save your route information? Data about where you shop? Where you bank? Will the information your car catalogs about you be sold? Will companies be able to purchase information about your daily habits and then push advertisements into your vehicle?

For instance, your car knows that last week you stopped for coffee at 6:30 in the morning on the way to work last week. As you approach the coffee shop will you get a visual or verbal cue that the coffee shop is open? And that all you have to do is “press here” or say “coffee” and your vehicle will turn into that coffee shop? If you stopped at Starbucks last week, will Dunkin’ Donuts be able to buy access to that information and send you a virtual coupon to stop at their location one block away the next time you are in the neighborhood? Will you be able give a command to purchase a one-pound bag of that coffee for home delivery by Amazon if you purchase it in the store on five occasions over three weeks?

How much control will owners have over the privacy settings in their vehicle? Will you be able to “clean” the database of a visit to a location that you do not want others to know you visited? Will you be able to create false data about where you were at a certain date in time, in an attempt to provide an alibi for criminal activity or activities that you do not want others to know about? Will you be able to change the route you actually took to a different route, thereby giving you plausible deniability for where you were and when you were there?

If you use a ride-sharing service, privacy concerns could be even greater. One big question is whether people using a service like Lyft or Uber would have to identify themselves when riding.  If so, these companies could gather extensive information about their users, including schedules, places they frequent, shopping habits, and eating habits. Would regulations be put into place regarding how this information could be used or sold?

An additional privacy concern is raised by the presence of cameras. If there are any cameras that look into or can angle into the interior of the car, riders may be concerned with the privacy of their images. Would the cameras record? If so, where would these images be stored, and who would own the rights to such images?

Because driverless cars still seem futuristic, it is difficult to even predict the privacy concerns that they may bring. For an interesting read on what a future commute could look like, you can read http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/03/self-driving-cars-and-the-looming-privacy-apocalypse/474600/.

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