'A car is one's second living room today,' says Audi chief. 'That's private. The only person who needs access to the data onboard is the customer.'
Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to judge whether a “space” is private or public, in light of the reality that whatever technology we carry constantly collects and sends out data from wherever we are — via smartwatch, smartphone or the system in the family car.
Not long ago, when we held an EE Times Radio Show on “Why Connect a Car?,” one astute reader posed a question, which I paraphrase: “Is the data collected via autonomous cars considered ‘public domain,’ since it was obtained on public roads?”
We’re all aware of the Orwellian nightmares about the possible impact on privacy of remote tracking in autonomous cars.
On one hand, I suspect that monitoring, tracking and remotely controlling autonomous cars is probably a necessary evil for the safe operation of self-driving cars.
On the other hand, I admit that I know little about legal grounds for collecting such data. Do I want Big Brother to know where I’ve been in an autonomous car? Is it OK for Big Brother to share that data with somebody, anybody, everybody? How will my passengers’ data be protected? What are the legal obligations for carmakers in the future?
Car as one’s second living room
Then I came across comments made by Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler at an event in Berlin on Tuesday (June 9). He reportedly said: "A car is one's second living room today.” He said, "That's private. The only person who needs access to the data onboard is the customer.”
Stadler’s point: “Audi takes privacy seriously.”
Considering that the Berlin event was also attended by Google’s Eric Schmidt, Stadler’s comment probably was a calculated move to draw a contrast between Audi’s autonomous cars and Google’s brainchild, the Google Car.
Google’s business is built on computers that perpetually troll our data – wherever we might have been. Google Cars extends Google’s reach to the public roads where cars run.
So, when the Audi honcho calls a car “our second living room,” I feel a breath of fresh air. It’s not just Audi taking a stringent line on guarding customer data. Germany's auto industry – including Audi’s rival Daimler – has lobbied regulators to take a restrictive line on data privacy.
Stadler noted, "The customer wants to be the focus, and doesn’t want to be exploited."
But of course, that’s Germany. And we live in the United States.
In a day and age when drivers already share willingly the data on their driving behavior with insurance companies via a tiny in-car camera (in hopes of having their insurance fees reduced), I despair that the privacy debate no longer has legs in America.
As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
I remember an email exchange last year with Scott J. McCormick, president of Connected Vehicle Trade Association. He believes, “We will likely never have a Personal Data Privacy Law, and that’s because of the laissez-faire form of economics this country operates under.”
I know many people, other than McCormick, who believe that the U.S. public will never embrace a public campaign for privacy laws.
McCormick argued that consumers already give up a whole lot of privacy to use their cell phones. “So why should a privacy question be device specific? Should there be different rules for my car or marine radio or cell phone?” he asked.
The Edward Snowden controversy aside, I’ve sensed lately that users, even in the United States, are more aware of the potential privacy complications of all their devices. But awareness doesn’t mean action. It could just be prelude to resignation.
Our sister publication Information Week ran this week a story titled, “Data Privacy Playbook For Wearables And IoT,” penned by Scott Amyx, the founder and CEO of Amyx+McKinsey, an agency specializes in smart wearables strategy and development. It's worth reading.
You can dismiss Stadler’s public comment as alarmism — or just a cheap shot at Google. But I don’t care even if it’s just marketing rhetoric. In my mind, it’s a challenge to the automotive industry – and the electronics industry at large – to start owning up to their responsibility for the privacy of the people they serve.