Car experts at the annual Detroit Motor Show and human rights activists have warned from a growing technological development in new cars allowing them to spy on the driver and send information about him to the car manufacturer.
They said the technology began sending information about the car itself. The technique developed to collect information on how to drive the car, and then to collect information about the places visited by the driver, his habits and hobbies.
Lisa Joy Rosner, chief marketing officer of Otonomo, a company that sells connected-car data, told the Washington Post: “Car manufacturers have realized that they're not hardware companies anymore, but also software companies.”
“The first space shuttle contained 500,000 lines of software code, but compare that to Ford's projection that by 2020 their vehicles will contain 100 million lines of code,” she added.
"We have to reconsider our cars," said Rosner. “They are no longer just a useful and convenient driving force. They have become an electronic device, like a giant computer,” she warned.
Automakers do not hide what they do in purchase contracts, however, they mention it in almost seen articles and small letters. According to information provided at the Detroit Motor Show by Gartner Technology Research, after five years all the cars sold in the United States and Europe will be equipped with monitoring devices.
At the show, Natalie Kumaratne, a Honda spokeswoman, refused to answer reporters’ questions on the data collected by the company. She said they are being used in experiments aiming at advancing the industry. Instead, Kumaratne provided a copy of a contract to buy a Honda car that notes that the vehicle is equipped with multiple monitoring systems.
Dan Pierce, a GM spokesman, said: “We inform the consumer on the data we are going to collect, but if he declines, we do not collect it.”
Karen Hampton, a Ford spokeswoman, replied with a similar statement. “It's not new to have electronic devices in cars. About half a century ago, they were placed to provide information on the car to the driver. But now, they are transmitting information about the driver. Each car today has something like a "black box" that usually monitors the plane's flight.”
Lauren Smith, a human rights activist at the Future of Privacy Forum said that while devices such as Verizon Hum, Zubie and Autobrain connect cars to the Internet, and provide drivers with connection, they allow companies to partake in this communication.
Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said: “There’s a load of anti-fraud companies and law enforcement agencies that would love to purchase this data, which can reveal our most intimate habits. Security bodies will be delighted with such data.”
Dixon noted that these data can include the number of times we didn’t use the seat belt, the speed of the car, and frequent visits to a particular restaurant, or clinic for treatment of a particular disease.