Brains on wheels

Is your car spy­ing on you? If not, it soon will be…

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page -

At the dawn of the au­to­mo­bile age, driv­ers were ca­joled into buy­ing cars solely be­cause they were at­trac­tive, or fun to drive, or had fea­tures like leather seats and a good sound sys­tem. Now, those in­no­cent days are over. At CES, the world’s biggest tech show, house­hold names are pro­mot­ing their lat­est mod­els not on what they look like, or what they’re like to drive, but the qual­ity of their app store, voice as­sis­tance and AI.

Cars up­date au­to­mat­i­cally with new fea­tures with­out go­ing any­where near a me­chanic or fac­tory. And driv­ers can down­load fea­tures that let them shop, or­der food and read the news from their dash­board. But while these in­tel­li­gent cars have been de­signed to make our lives eas­ier, they have also helped com­pa­nies col­lect vast amounts of data on us. They can track every­thing from a ve­hi­cle’s lo­ca­tion, the lo­cal weather, how fast you drive, what songs you like to lis­ten to and even, on some mod­els, the weight of pas­sen­gers.

BMW is show­ing off cars at CES with an in­tel­li­gent as­sis­tant that learns a driver’s favourite ra­dio sta­tions, pre­ferred heat set­tings and the routes they of­ten take, send­ing traf­fic up­dates if it looks like they are some­where they fre­quently go, even if the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem is turned off.

Driv­ers re­ceive two au­to­matic re­mote soft­ware up­dates each year. Last year Ford ac­quired Au­to­nomic, a start-up that uses the cloud to al­low com­pa­nies to pro­vide ser­vices to driv­ers via their in-car soft­ware.

The com­pa­nies col­lect­ing driver in­for­ma­tion ar­gue that their ser­vices are used to help con­sumers – per­son­al­i­sa­tion can be im­proved, lost cars can be found, the cause of crashes can be de­ter­mined. Con­nected cars also have po­ten­tial ben­e­fits for pedes­tri­ans.

Pro­po­nents see a fu­ture where driveras­sist sys­tems, en­abled by the su­per­fast 5G in­ter­net due to roll out across the

US this year, would com­mu­ni­cate with the phones of peo­ple cross­ing the road, pre­vent­ing ac­ci­dents.

Com­pa­nies are wide-eyed about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the con­nected world. “Every­thing that can be con­nected will be,” said Ver­i­zon’s Melissa Glid­den Tye at a CES ses­sion.

GDPR means Eu­ro­pean con­sumers can have some re­as­sur­ance that they will have con­trol over what their data is be­ing used for. It also gives you the right to have your in­for­ma­tion deleted, and also to be able to port it your­self, which raises ques­tions over how whose re­spon­si­bil­ity this is, and how eas­ily you would be able to move it to a new car com­pany.

Eu­ro­pean brands may have an ad­van­tage here – BMW says all its cars world­wide are GDPR-com­pli­ant, even for con­sumers out­side the EU.

But there are con­cerns. “As there is now a tech­nol­ogy war de­vel­op­ing in terms of new car mod­els, with each one try­ing to of­fer more con­nected fea­tures, it does beg the ques­tion whether the im­pli­ca­tions of all that data col­lec­tion and use have been prop­erly thought through,” says Rafi Azim-Khan, head of data pri­vacy Europe for Pills­bury Law. Car in­sur­ers have long been us­ing driver data to de­ter­mine in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums, par­tic­u­larly for young driv­ers. “Black box” tech­nol­ogy is well es­tab­lished in the UK, with al­most a mil­lion driv­ers al­low­ing their habits to be tracked via ei­ther a de­vice in­stalled in their car or an app on their mo­bile phone.

Paul Stacy, of Lex­isNexis Risk So­lu­tions, which op­er­ates a neu­tral server with a data­base of driv­ing and ve­hi­cle in­for­ma­tion used to pro­vide in­sur­ance quotes, said that in Europe, driv­ing scores are mostly still based on black-box telem­at­ics. “While there are some cars that are con­nected, that do have that data, we’re not sat­is­fied that the right con­sents are in place for us to be able to do it up to GDPR,” he said.

Some man­u­fac­tur­ers did not ask buy­ers to sign the right forms, es­pe­cially if the car was bought be­fore the pri­vacy laws came in, and the num­bers that have are too small to make it fi­nan­cially vi­able.

But things are mov­ing quickly. “By 2025, 100pc of new cars will be con­nected in Europe,” he said. “We are talk­ing to ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers at the mo­ment and they’re say­ing ‘ev­ery sin­gle make and model that we sell next year will be con­nected’.”

Cars will be able to do what smart­phones do now. In a deal an­nounced last year with map­ping com­pany Map­box, Porsche driv­ers will be of­fered con­text about the routes they are us­ing, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion about nearby restau­rants, as well as the abil­ity to share their route and ar­rival time with oth­ers.

Alex Barth, the com­pany’s head of au­to­mo­tive, says the tech­nol­ogy could even­tu­ally feed data back to im­prove map­ping sys­tems, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion about lane use, travel times and stop signs. He said: “Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand how much a car is go­ing to be like a mo­bile phone.”

Other com­pa­nies are look­ing at how this data can be mon­e­tised. British so­cial net­work DriveTribe re­cently

an­nounced it was shift­ing its

‘By 2025, 100pc of new cars will be con­nected in Europe’

busi­ness model to con­nect users with com­pa­nies of­fer­ing mo­tor­ing ser­vices, based on the data they had pro­vided about their cars. The only data it col­lects is user-pro­vided, from mar­ket re­search-style sur­veys and in­for­ma­tion about the cars mem­bers own. Jonathan Mor­ris, the chief ex­ec­u­tive, says the com­pany is also look­ing at part­ner­ships with com­pa­nies that col­lect driv­ing data, such as lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion, and sen­ti­ment data – how peo­ple feel while driv­ing their car. Mil­len­ni­als en­gage on an emo­tional level with driv­ing, the com­pany’s data sug­gests, and it plans to use wear­ables to see how driv­ing makes peo­ple feel. Con­nected cars are also likely to end up con­nected to the In­ter­net of Things, not known for hav­ing a con­sis­tent com­mit­ment to data se­cu­rity. In some re­cent cases, cars with key­less en­try have been hacked and un­locked by thieves. If a car is linked up to soft­ware that al­lows it to be parked or even driven re­motely, this may be ex­ploited.

A raft of start-ups have be­gun to ad­dress this prob­lem, as well as the UK’s gov­ern­ment-backed or­gan­i­sa­tion Merid­ian, which be­lieves there needs to be much more at­ten­tion on the se­cu­rity data sent be­tween cars and smart-city in­fra­struc­ture.

There are other is­sues as cars be­come smart en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems. China-based elec­tric car start-up By­ton opened the con­fer­ence on Sun­day with its SUV, due to go into pro­duc­tion this year, which is full of screens. They say the sys­tem has been “in­ten­sively tested” against driver dis­trac­tion and stream­ing will not be al­lowed. Car com­pa­nies gen­er­ally re­move the ca­pa­bil­ity to watch TV while the car is be­ing driven, but this is open to abuse, warns Azim-Khan, bring­ing “a whole host of ad­di­tional reg­u­la­tory con­cern”. Much of this tech­nol­ogy ap­pears to be work­ing to­wards a world in which hu­man driv­ers aren’t needed at all. In the driver­less age, con­cerns about dis­trac­tion will no longer be rel­e­vant, and pas­sen­gers will be hands-free and able to shop, swipe and stream to their heart’s con­tent. Cars’ abil­ity to “talk” to one an­other, via ve­hi­cle-to-ve­hi­cle com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems, will be cru­cial to au­ton­omy. That utopian vi­sion de­pends on the suc­cess of the com­pa­nies work­ing to put driver­less cars on the road. But in the mean­time, cars will con­tinue to get smarter – even while driv­ers re­main bor­ingly, and fal­li­bly, hu­man.

New breed: Toy­ota’s lat­est au­tonomous test ve­hi­cle, called P4, based on the new-gen­er­a­tion Lexus LS500h hy­brid lux­ury saloon, packed with cam­eras, shown at CES this week

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