Big Brother Will Be Watching You As You Drive

Is improved car connectivity for “better driving experience” becoming worryingly Orwellian? Automologist MAC weighs in. 

So there you are suffering on the slow commute home in your car, thinking about what to have for your dinner. As you get close to your local pizza parlour, up pops an advert on your digital central console offering you a $2 discount on your favourite thin crust Hawaiian Pizza. Do you feel pleased that you can avail yourself of the discount or deeply suspicious that “they” know precisely where you are and what you prefer to eat? Big car companies looking for new ways to make money and a company called Telenav Inc., a company that is developing in-car advertising software, are actually betting that you would not mind that much at all.

Of course we have been talking about the plethora of wireless connectivity and data collection ability being added to cars for years. With new artificial intelligence that can sift through the data ever faster, new revenue streams are emerging and of course everybody, not least the manufacturers, want to have their piece of the pie. The big question is will the average driver be turned off knowing that they are being watched by the machine.

Executives in the auto industry are presently trying to reassure the motorist that this collection of driver lifestyle choices will enable them to create a better driving experience for the driver. You know, find a parking space or a charging station, avoid traffic congestion, even improve vehicle security; after all, what robber would steal a car if they knew that its precise whereabouts could be traced in real time? Okay, all of that touchy feely nonsense aside, it is the ability to share data in real time that will present the biggest opportunity. So, there will eventually be regulations that govern the sharing of this information, and this may strike you as odd, but in most countries, data-protection acts do not effectively cover information gathered from your car.

So, when will all of this be with us? Well, it already is. In much of the world now, insurance companies are already making the renewal of your policy expensive unless you equip your car with one of the new smart boxes. These are small devices that track your driving habits, like the speed you drive at, the time you drive, your braking habits and also where you are.

Not to be left out, the car companies are all looking to monetize the data they are collecting. General Motors has already launched an in-car concierge service that lets you order Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, for instance, or make restaurant reservations as you drive. I bet the safety lobbyists were not happy about that.

With the ability to trace exactly where you have been, it will only be a short time before law enforcement agencies start using the information gathered. You may well argue that this can only make life better for law-abiding citizens such as me, but that is assuming that the faceless people behind the screens can be trusted, or, the data cannot be hacked. For me, it just makes me feel exceedingly uncomfortable knowing that I am being constantly watched, and I hope that I am not alone in labelling this new use of our personal data as being down right creepy.

The new GM service. I will have a double-skinny caffeine-free latte, please…

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