Still think companies aren’t mining your data? GM has already done it.
Company confirms program of monitoring drivers’ radio selections for advertising data, but it’s certainly not alone in watching our habits
My son is car shopping, and he wants nothing to do with new cars. In fact, he’d like one about 15 years old. Why? He wants none of the tracking, telematics or high-tech wizardry embedded in newer cars.
Is he paranoid? Nope. He designs software. What he knows should make all of us pay far more attention to how much information our vehicles are sharing, and stop being dazzled by infotainment systems and other technologies that effectively take your bedroom door off the hinges.
I think it’s too late, actually. And as long as the art of information gathering continues to be promoted as something good and optional (“just adjust your settings”), we will continue to run toward shiny things while we surrender every last vestige of personal privacy.
GM recently announced a pilot program that had 90,000 drivers in the Los Angeles and Chicago areas opt in to have their radio selections monitored. The auto manufacturer made no bones about why. GM “wants to make money from understanding its drivers’ car radio-listening habits.” I give them points for being direct. I still wouldn’t sign up.
As reported last week in the Detroit Free Press, “In a three-month test, GM used in-car Wi-Fi to track the habits of some of its drivers in hopes of seeing whether there is a relationship between what drivers listen to and what they buy.” They track what you listen to and where you go in an effort to tailor advertising. Obviously, advertisers will pay mightily to target existing or potential customers, and the whole project is banking on how suggestible we are.
Dr. Ann Cavoukian, a Distinguished Expert-in-Residence at Ryerson University and one of the world’s leading privacy experts, says, “You have to ask so many questions about this type of information gathering, and determine what is actually happening to your information.”
As with the GM program, many promise to anonymize and aggregate your information: make it unidentifiable and part of a huge trove. Cavoukian stresses the need for participants to truly opt in, by expressing positive consent, but also questions how many people read the fine print to see how their information will actually be used. “De-identifying information can be done poorly, or it can be done well,” she says. “Ask yourself what the benefit is to you, to give up this information.” Until security and privacy is embedded in this tech, you really have no sure way of knowing what will be done with your information, now or in the future. Having your personal information flying around may be, at worst, annoying — you could be bombarded by advertisements — but my collapsing faith in the world leads me to more sinister imaginings.
The benefit to gatherers is easy to see: they sell it. Worst (or best) example of this is Facebook, a company that basically sits on your lap watching everything you type, knows everything you purchase, how you vote and who your family is. While this might pass the test of “what the benefit is” — I get to be social and witty and post cat pictures — I remain uncertain why a car manufacturer knowing if I listen to rockabilly or rap benefits me.
When early talks of fully autonomous cars started in earnest, a tech expert with a car manufacturer surprised me with just how far ahead they were looking. We’ve all heard that full autonomy will be safer, and get rid of traffic jams, and change the legal and insurance worlds; he acknowledged those factors, but was equally interested in the advertising potential. Apparently, with drivers having nothing to do, the plan is for ads to be projected on every available surface. We will be driving inside of billboards, with navigation systems offering up burgers and hardware and sheet sets from the advertisers who pay to be there.
Follow Cavoukian’s advice: be required to express positive consent to opt in to having your data harvested, read the terms of service before you give that consent, determine and trust what will be done with information that is gathered, and finally, understand what benefit you will derive. It may be humorous to hear of personal tech assistants like Google’s Alexa accidentally sending out personal conversations, but instead of chuckling, we should be taking note.
A decade ago, the insurance industry began promoting squeal boxes — sorry, telematics — that could track how you drove and thereby offer you, perhaps, a better insurance rate. I was told they would not use the information to penalize bad drivers, only reward good ones. I didn’t believe it then, and I still don’t. Any entity losing money in one area will make it up in another.
I thought people were insane to trade their privacy for so little money. But what I thought never mattered; every car has the equivalent built in now, so the whole concept of elective buy-in on vehicle telematics is a moot point. What was very recently an experiment, a pilot project, is now out of your hands.
As Cavoukian says, “Trust, but verify. Look under the hood.”
Car companies are looking for ways to mine your driving data.