Once in a sudden, everybody is talking about taking cars online. Navigation systems, Stolen Vehicle Tracking (SVT) applications, automatic emergency calls, road toll systems all of them want to talk to my car. Electronically and automatically. Through no fault of the driver's own.
Well, it may be nice to have an automatic update on the current traffic situation, delivered to my navigation system. It certainly will be better than the existing radio-based TMC system. TMC messages excel by one common denominator: They are, without exception, outdated and inaccurate when they reach the user. So any timely online system certainly would be better than what we have now. It also sounds fine that the car itself (actually, a GSM or 3G modem, combined with a GPS locator and some add-on circuitry on top) could automatically call emergency services in the case I crash into a roadside tree. Also the possibility to track down the villain who has stolen my car sounds good at the first place.
But the brave new world of automatic wireless communication will have its downside. Not only that telematics providers will add their fees to user's mobile phone bill. The real drawbacks are not necessarily in money, or only in a very indirect way. Once a vehicle is online and equipped with navigation system at the same time, the car and the appropriate driver can be tracked down at any time. I bet that, for instance, insurance companies will find ways to charge drivers by very elaborated models: Distance, speed, time of the day and even the location where you drive will be taken into account. You pass through a district of your town tagged as insecure by the insurers and it will drive the bill higher. You drive frequently during night time and your insurance gets more expensive. And, which is already reality in some countries, if you do not have a SVT device in your car, it again drives the insurance bill.
In IT talk, a Trojan is a harmful software that someone has installed on your computer without permission. Here, we have a new class of Trojans: They are legal. They make life more expensive if you use it. And, interestingly, also if you do not use it. A genial invention from the perspective of their inventors.