Now that his Japanese smart car has taken to recommending local sushi restaurants, Mel Croucher thinks it won’t be long before it’s using his personal data to flog him stuff
Modern cars are so smart they can immerse you in foreign culture and take you to the best restaurants in town. It’s only a matter of time, says Mel Croucher, before they start flogging you stuff, too
ISN’T IT GRAND to be a motorist in the future! Long ago, when I was a motorist in the past, I tried to negotiate a relationship with a snot-green Morris Minor that really sulked. I had to fondle its handle and crank it for ages until it fired up, and every weekend I had to get down on my knees to grease its nipples and oil its dashpot, all to keep the relationship going. And it never answered me once when I talked to it. Maybe it never answered because of some traumatic early garage experience. Maybe it had been involved in a suicide pact. There were traces of lipstick round the exhaust pipe. Meanwhile, here in the future, my shiny modern car likes nothing better than to have a chat, if only to break the silence under its sleek bonnet where there is nothing but a computercontrolled silver slab powered by rainbows and unicorns.
Although my new car is very happy to take orders and proffer advice, I have to admit it has begun to exhibit behaviour that may not be in the best interests of the British way of life. For example, yesterday I was driving in unfamiliar territory and busting for a pee. So using the voice-control, I asked my car to take me to the nearest comfort station. It promptly selected a new route and slithered to a halt outside a branch of YO! Sushi. The thing is, the day before I had asked my car to direct me to a wildfowl nature reserve, and it went and took me to a different branch of YO! Sushi. It just so happens that I drive a Toyota, and I’m starting to think my car is not only endowed with artificial intelligence, it’s also on a mission to serve Japanese culture. I wonder if smart cars built by other nations are pulling the same trick. Perhaps if I drove a Volkswagen it would force me to pick up Syrian refugees or invade Poland. Probably best if I stick with the Toyota.
TRACKS OF MY FEARS
We’re used to the fact that our phones track us and report back to advertisers, and most of us don’t bother to change the default settings because we accept being tracked as part of the deal. Or we simply don’t care. Now cars are getting connected to the web, I reckon the same acceptance has already begun. After all, most people are perfectly happy about speed cameras and number-plate recognition, and if there’s a way of stopping data getting slurped from our dashcams and sat navs then most of us have never bothered to find out how. The likes of Audi and Volvo are already integrating the Android Auto system into their next generation of cars, which feeds straight back to Google. So cars are becoming computers on wheels, and they don’t even need a service provider or network connection to generate all that personal data. And there’s a huge amount of data to be gleaned, cross-referenced and monetised.
As ever, it’s all about the money. Punters are willing to accommodate an intrusive app that monitors every press of the pedal and turn of the wheel in order reduce their car insurance premiums in return for evidence of good driving, so an interruption to their in-car listening with personalised advertising is no big shift. Costa vs Starbucks, McDonalds vs Burger King, Shell vs BP, all ready to pay for the privilege to push-feed a tempting offer to any driver in the vicinity and get one over the opposition.
And it gets even smarter, as the car’s sensors are alerted to a component failure and recommend a detour to Kwik Fit or Halfords, whoever pays the right price. In fact, cars could self-assess the impact of an accident and decide whether to call the AA or reserve a slot at the crematorium.
DON’T FOLLOW ME
So should I be worried that my near-silent electric car won’t be able to keep its computerised gob shut about my personal behavioural patterns? Will it shop me if I drive home from the pub, or have sex in the back seat, or betray Aldi in favour of Lidl, or visit a clinic, or a church, or a crack den?
Well, should I be worried? Actually, no, I should not be worried in the slightest, because governments and guardians can’t afford to channel and exploit this huge stream of car-based data that is automatically generated by the on-board computers. But Google, Facebook and Amazon can, and every car manufacturer on the planet will be only too happy to facilitate them. And not one of them cares if I’m a spy or a drug dealer. They don’t care if I am a saint or a sinner. They’re not interested in my secrets and lies. They don’t give a monkeys about my monkey business. All they care about is trying to sell me as much stuff as possible.
And right now, all I care about is why I seem to be parked in front of a large glass window, staring at a moving belt of colour-coded dishes that contain an endless selection of healthy Japanese cuisine at very reasonable prices. Yummy.
I wonder if smart cars built by other nations are pulling the same trick. Perhaps if I drove a Volkswagen it would force me to pick up Syrian refugees or invade Poland