What are the privacy implications of self-driving cars?

August 18, 2016
Dilyana Dobrinova
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We live on the edge between modern tech and old school values.

We make decisions about what matters more and what we are ready to sacrifice in exchange. Yet, most of the time the things we want, come at a much higher price than what we expect.

We post our whole lives on social media in exchange for likes and new followers. We share our location in exchange for better search suggestions. In exchange for more security, we give out our fingerprints.

And now, in exchange for technology that promises to make driving easier, we allow new car tech to track our locations, preferences, and behavior.

What happens with the information outside the vehicle? How vulnerable are such vehicles to hacking?

In this post, join us as we delve into the subject of self-driving cars and the privacy issue.

car-hacking self-driving cars
Image Source: neovera.com

What are the privacy implications of self-driving cars?

Most people don’t spend time actively thinking about what they are giving up in exchange for a ride in a self-driving car. And even if they do, the main concern is usually safety.

Government officials have already started thinking about the impact this new trend in transport will have on the roads. In 2015, 16 states introduced legislation in relation to driverless vehicles, which is almost three times more than in 2012. Most of the legislation, however, has been focused on the physical safety of autonomous vehicles. Laws regulating the development of safe vehicle automation are the most common so far. Yet, there is little discussion about what happens with personal information collected by self-driving car makers.

Before we move on, though, – self-driving cars’ prospects for the future are not all that grim. Everything has two sides to it. So before making up your mind about connected cars, read our post on taking the wheel of intelligent transport.

What about data privacy?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a phenomenon that allows consumers to experience, like never before, the greatest conveniences. Yet, people don’t often consider the fact that there is much more hiding behind the interface. The key fact is that autonomous cars run first on data and then on gasoline.

Typical for the IoT, real-time communication is the key factor behind the success of any technological function. This real-time interaction occurs not only between the user and the environment but also between the user and the data collectors on the back-end of the technology.

And naturally, technology is still prone to errors in communication between devices, which creates an issue with data security in times of breakdowns.

Data accessed through the software of self-driving cars may reveal information about the users’ driving habits, favorite routes, and stops, including home addresses. Certain automotive companies purposefully seek this commercially valuable information from hackers.

Suddenly you may become a piece of data that suits someone’s interests, a tool for doing business. Or even a player in a modernistic version of The Sims, monitored all the time and, based on that, given all the things you supposedly need.

What about personal security?

Your security may also be at risk. Researchers have proven that self-driving car technology does not have a firewall to hackers yet.

The systems can be easily compromised due to the high dependability on the software. The sensitivity of the interface, which is required to increase the physical safety of the passenger, is also a threat because it makes the interface easier to hack.

Once hacked, the vehicle may miscalculate the environment around and begin detecting obstacles where there are none. For instance, Lidar, the interface system in the Google autonomous car, relies on spinning lasers to recreate the images in the environment. The technology can be hacked with a low-power laser which can disrupt the normal behavior of the vehicle.

What is being done in response to privacy concerns?

Some states are a step ahead in the game against privacy issues. California, for example, has issued legislation that requires notice and consent before information can be collected from vehicle operators. To decrease the likelihood of a hacker attack, security walls should be established at each step of the data-exchange process – collection, use, storage, and dissemination of data gathered from the autonomous vehicle.

Researchers say that 75% of vehicles will be autonomous by 2025. But to get there, technology will require more sacrifices for our privacy in exchange for better functioning devices and vehicles. If we want to remain in charge of our decisions, we have to be more protective of our values and personal information when negotiating with the gadgets of the future.

And if you are curious about how the idea of autonomous cars came to be – you are in for a surprise. Delve into the history with our post on the driverless cars of the past. And if you have any questions, just reach out to us by dropping us a line via our online chat or call us at (818) 850-5258 and we will be happy to assist you!

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