Automotive Data Recorders –Is Privacy Dead?

USA Today reports on the privacy concerns raised by event data recorders installed in most new vehicles. The devices can provide information such as a vehicle's speed, brake or accelerator application, steering direction and seatbelt use.  While the fact of the tracking is interesting (e.g., the article did not mention what rental car agencies might be doing with this data), I found the article more intriguing for the blanket statement about the death of privacy.  “As for the expectation of privacy, ‘that pretty much went out the door for most things a long time ago’ said Buddy Oakes, a Columbia-based insurance claims adjuster. ‘I don't know that there's privacy on anything anymore. Every phone call you make can be tracked, and just about anything that becomes a legal matter becomes public information.’”

I agree with the sentiment that privacy is much harder to protect, and have heard similar statements by fellow panelists.  I disagree, however with the notion that there should be no expectation of privacy and that consumers should not be given the choice.  As technology pervades more aspects of our lives, certain details should be disclosed only at the option of the consumer.  Should the grocery list kept by my refrigerator be public?  What I watch or DVR on my TV?  When I leave and enter my home? The websites I visit?  The vast majority of people would say they want the option of deciding what is shared and with whom, as reflected in the recent inquiry by Representative Markey to Amazon.

I do think that the resolution is around choice, rather than prohibition.  While there is a creep factor about everyone knowing my buying habits, I may want certain retailers to have this information so that I can receive discounts and promotions directed at my personal interests.  Is enacting laws the answer?  Thirteen states have enacted laws to limit access to the information collected by automobile data recorders.  Most states do not have laws preventing an individual from uploading such data without permission. Also, such piecemeal protection will not be of help with the data on my refrigerator’s computer, exercise equipment, or home monitoring and control computer system.  The best measure is for companies to have clear and concise privacy policies that enable consumers to make informed choices, an apparent difficult step for those that have been in this space for a long time. However, simplified privacy policies without confusing legalese are possible and should become the norm.

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Ron Raether |