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Smart cars are harvesting your data

Imagine a world where your car monitors your every move. It knows how you spend your money, who you talk to, how jerkily you slam on the brakes and what your health is like. Sound like a scene from a dystopian science fiction movie like The Fifth Element? Well that reality is here, as a privacy watchdog warns that “smart,” connected cars are costing Canadians their privacy. 

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A recent study, by The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, questions just “who is in the driver’s seat” when it comes to owning a smart car.

“The same technologies that allow for safer, more convenient and entertaining vehicles are also capable of amassing vast databases of information about drivers and analyzing that data in order to generate ‘actionable insights,'” write the researchers. And just why does it matter if your car knows that you drove it home last night at 3 a.m., narrowly missed hitting a pigeon on your way home? Who would possibly care about that?

Lots of people apparently. For one, how you drive your car can actually affect your insurance rates, as smart cars can measure your “distance driven, time of day driven, as well as acceleration, braking, speed and cornering,” explain the study authors. For some, this can all work in their favor, as your car sends data wirelessly to your insurer: “Discounts of up to 30% are typically offered for drivers who drive less overall, who do not drive between midnight and 5 a.m., and who refrain from sudden braking and acceleration.” But if you work the night shift, or have a heavy foot when it comes to braking, you’re probably not going to appreciate owning a car that rats you out.

Connected cars are also increasingly sharing information with advertisers. For instance, the mobile advertising company Kiip can connect with your car to offer you targeted ads at certain moments of the day, whether “you get to your meeting early and you should get a free coffee from the place around the block” Michael Sprague, Kiip’s head of partnerships explains in MIT Technology Review, or “you just logged 100 miles on a road trip; your phone says, ‘Here’s a Red Bull.’” 

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Our cars are learning more about us every day

The ways our cars reach into our lives is growing by the day. And now companies like Ford and Mercedes-Benz have even offered drivers the option of linking their car up with Google Nest — your car is actually able to communicate with your house directly. It can open and close garage doors or even connect to thermostats.

Some employers are even taking advantage of the new trend in collapsing privacy on the road, installing dash cams into cars to help monitor employees. Brick House Security markets its cameras as “a great way to make sure your teen driver or employee is doing the right thing behind the wheel. Dash cams are also great for providing evidence in case of an accident or insurance dispute.”

What if we don’t want our cars to spy on us?

But what about those of us who are creeped out by the fact that our cars seem to be spying on us? While you can always choose not to connect your car with optional apps, the study authors point out that soon consumers won’t have a choice; connected cars are quickly becoming the new normal. The study authors are calling out for the creation of a set of data-collection rules for smart cars.

“Cars are private places in which Canadians spend a great deal of time and conduct a great deal of personal business,” they write. “According to the Supreme Court of Canada, it is exactly this kind of data in which, Canadians have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

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