We know many countries spy on their enemies. And we're learning that the U.S. also spies on its allies and citizens. But should private companies and auto makers be spying on us too?
Alisa Priddle of the Detroit Free Press raises that question. She says Ford found itself trying to assure the public last week it doesn’t use on-board technology to spy on driver behavior.
Trying to put out a brush fire ignited by a Ford executive’s comment, the automaker said that laws are needed to protect driver privacy in vehicles that can gather as much data as a smart phone. Do you agree?
Ford's Jim Farley let the cat out of the bag. At the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he sparked a fury among privacy advocates when he said during a panel discussion "We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you're doing it.
“We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone."
Within days, Ford CEO Alan Mulally received a letter from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law, seeking more information on the data Ford collects and how it is used. In 2011 Franken proposed a law to protect the privacy of location data in mobile devices.
Mulally said he plans to respond to Franken by early February as requested. But at another auto show he shifted into 'damage control.'
“What he (Farley) said was not right,” Mulally told reporters on the sidelines of the North American International Show. “We do not track the vehicles. That’s absolutely wrong. And we’d only send data to get map data if they agree that that’s OK to do that, but we don’t do anything with the data, we don’t track it and we would never do that.”
With data breaches now seemingly common, the debate over how and when collected auto-related driving data can be used is likely to intensify, Priddle noted. Vehicles produced by Ford and other automakers, as well as myriad mobile devices, can receive and send massive amounts of information. Black boxes capture detail on the car’s performance while modems and smartphones transmit information to and from the cloud.
In emergency situations, access to such information could be life-saving. On the other hand, consumers don’t want their driving patterns sold to marketers, their vehicles’ speed fed to local law enforcement, insurance companies, or be subject to arbitrary privacy invasions.
Ford is not the first automaker to land in hot water on this issue.
General Motors’ OnStar system generated controversy in 2011 when stories broke that new terms of service allowed the automaker to continue tracking OnStar customers even after they stopped subscribing. Three weeks after the outcry, the terms were changed.
How confident are you that your privacy won't be invaded? Interestingly, The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper reported last week that the NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.
George Orwell told us, our lives are 'open books.' The data our cars collect may be adding a chapter or two. I'll bet that will cost us in more ways than we know.