Tag: Privacy

By on November 5, 2019

In reading this website, you’ve no doubt come across paranoid rants about automotive companies vacuuming up your personal data as connected cars become the norm — often written by yours truly. Frequently bleak, they address a multitude of concerns we believe will only get worse before they can get better.

A large part of that has to do with automakers seeing the potential of leveraging customer data, like so many tech companies have before them. But elected (and unelected) officials also seem to have a loose grasp of the technology and its potential ramifications. When the Department of Transportation initially approved self-driving vehicles for public testing, the guidelines were loose and largely dependent upon self-reporting — few wanted to stand in the way of developing systems that might someday save lives.

However, manufacturers are now beginning to issue over-the-air updates, perpetual internet connectivity, gamification, and in-car marketplaces (complete with advertisements). While the new technology has opened up new doors for customer experiences and corporate revenue, it’s accelerating at a pace that’s difficult to track. As a result, lawmakers in Massachusetts and California are starting to get antsy. The former hopes to address how data will be handled in accordance with the state’s right-to-repair laws. The latter is more directly concerned with privacy.  (Read More…)

By on October 30, 2019

Ford badge emblem logo

The days of owning an automobile that’s not perpetually connected to various digital networks are quickly coming to a close. On Wednesday, Ford announced most of its redesigned vehicles in the U.S. with have over-the-air update capability after 2020. The automaker is framing this as a way to “repair” your vehicle at home and offer new features after a model has already been purchased.

“Nobody wants to feel like they’re missing out on great features right after spending their hard-earned money on a new vehicle — that’s where our over-the-air updates can help,” said Don Butler, executive director of Ford’s connected services. “We can now help improve your vehicle’s capability, quality and overall driving experience while you’re sleeping.”

While the prospects of giving auto manufacturers remote access to your car are vast, it’s also a double-edged sword. Over-the-air updates would undoubtedly save you a trip to the service center in the event of a code-based recall but it also opens vehicle’s up to privacy concerns and gives automakers new avenues for business.  (Read More…)

By on July 15, 2019

Amazon is striving to put Alexa, the home assistant/listening device, into more automobiles in the coming years. As a result, the company is working feverishly to enhance her vehicular-related capabilities — including wriggling her way into the embedded software systems of new cars.

On the surface, it sounds great. Networking your car with your smart home device opens up a bevy of new conveniences and Alexa should also help your car get better at understanding everyday voice commands. In the future, you’ll be able to order groceries, check the stock market, call the office, and adjust the thermostat of your house and car without ever having to take your hands off the steering wheel. But this also opens up a bevy of concerns, now that we know Amazon’s employees listen to and record pretty much everything you say to the device — sometimes doing the same for background conversations that were never intended for Alexa’s ears.  (Read More…)

By on April 30, 2019

With mobile phones now a ubiquitous part of modern-day life, distracted driving has ballooned into a legitimate public safety problem. Alarming studies continue to pour in, with many claiming that driver cell phone use is likely underreported by authorities in crash reports. It’s hard to quantify, especially since nobody wants to admit that their moment of weakness may have contributed to an accident.

Add in a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey that found 30 percent of drivers aged 21 to 34 believe texting doesn’t negatively impact their driving, and you’d be forgiven for picking up your keys with sweaty palms.

A new study claims the issue has only gotten worse, with drivers spending more time on their phone than ever before. However, the way the data was acquired is disconcerting in itself. Insurance companies are tapping traffic data startups to monitor people’s phones, and they’re already capable of tracking millions of American devices.  (Read More…)

By on April 1, 2019

As cars grow more dependent upon computer-controlled driving aids and automakers implement permanent internet connectivity, we’ve grown increasingly concerned with how automakers handle their customer’s data.

It sounds conspiratorial, but there’s a series of events to hang the tinfoil hat on. In 2017, General Motors announced it had successfully monitored the listening habits of 90,000 motorists in a study aimed at improving marketing insights. It also rejiggered OnStar and introduced the Marketplace app for seamless in-car purchasing options. Our take was that it was as impressive as it was ominous — and GM is only leading the charge into a what analysts believe will eventually become a multi-billion dollar industry.

Naturally, this led to privacy concerns over how automakers will protect customer data on future models. But we might want to start worrying about the cars we have now. A couple of white-hat hackers (those are the good ones) recently probed the internal computer networks of wrecked and salvaged Teslas and found a mother lode of personal information waiting inside. (Read More…)

By on October 4, 2018

Image: RU2 Systems

Modern society seems to be divided into two camps — those who say, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, why would you have a problem with [expanded government power A]?” and those who drop their copy of Reason in horror as each new measure designed to make society “safer” erodes their perceived freedom just a little bit more.

The former group will cheer this news, though the latter camp will surely decry our steeper descent into a Surveillance State. Those annoying roadside signs that flash your current speed might soon record your plate number. (Read More…)

By on July 12, 2018

autonomous hardware

Autonomous vehicles have created an endless series of unanswerable questions. As the technology continues to advance, decisions on how best to implement it have not. We’ve yet to discern who is liable in the event of an accident, how insurance rules would change, if they can coexist effectively with traditional automobiles, how they will impact vehicle ownership in the long term, and the infrastructure necessary to ensure they’ll function as intended.

There’s also a myriad of security concerns involving everything from the very real prospect of vehicle hacking to automakers selling the personal information of drivers. Both of those topics are about to come to a head as automakers continue shifting toward connected vehicles.

In March, the U.S. Transportation Department met with auto industry leaders, consumer advocacy groups, labor unions, and others in an attempt to navigate the minefield that is autonomous integration. The department previously hosted similar roundtable discussions in December after releasing the new federal guidance for automated driving systems, called “A Vision for Safety 2.0.” That guidance freed up automakers and tech firms to test self-driving vehicles with fewer regulatory hurdles to cope with.

However, the December report seemed to focus mainly on how little everyone outside the industry understands the new technology. (Read More…)

By on May 9, 2017

Porsche cayenne diesel

While places like New York and California might come to mind first, no one bans things quite like the jurisdictions north of the border. Banning, a popular pastime given the cold outside temperatures, are always done in the hazy pursuit of public safety. Something bad could happen? Ban it.

When it comes to smoking, few will disagree that smoking in the workplace can have a negative impact on employees. The same goes for restaurant and bar patrons. As non-smoking areas (both indoors and outdoors) expand across the U.S., here’s a cautionary tale of how vindictive and overzealous an enforcer of these law can be.

They’ll nab you in your car. (Read More…)

By on November 21, 2016

Cameron Aubernon License, Still The Same IDs, Image: © 2016 Cameron Aubernon/The Truth About Cars

Over a year has passed since my quest to regain my license began. A lot has happened since then.

(Read More…)

By on September 15, 2016

Tesla Model S

It’s common knowledge that Tesla vehicles store and transmit data back to the company’s Fremont, California home base, but a hacker working on a wrecked Model S just discovered something startling.

In an interview published by Inverse (h/t to Hybrid Cars), North Carolina computer programmer Jason Hughes claims that Tesla’s Autopilot system actually records video. While working on a center display unit from a wrecked Model S, Hughes found footage of the vehicle’s crash. (Read More…)

By on July 6, 2016

statefarm

Ever wonder exactly how the various “quick-lube” places in your city made a profit?

The price of motor oil rises and falls — mostly rises — but the pricing stays at $19.95 or $24.95 or whatever your local market will bear. As fate would have it, most of my vehicles aren’t compatible with the quick-lube business model of having some sweaty dude waving your air filter in your face and telling you that it has the Zika virus while an actual rhesus monkey cross-threads your drain plug using an impact gun. My 993, as an example, has two oil filters, while my Boxster requires a 32-step process to get to the air filters. Nor would I trust my mighty Accord V6 to somebody whose path in life hasn’t qualified them to work above ground.

Not all of us have the luxury of doing our own oil changes at home, however. You might not have the space, the tools, the ability, or the time that’s required to do it correctly yourself. That last factor is perhaps the biggest. If you’re working two McJobs to make ends meet, the Valvoline Oil Change down the street might be your only practical choice. The good news: it’s cheap. The bad news: some of that cost savings comes from another way the shop makes money on you, without you even knowing.

(Read More…)

By on May 27, 2016

Data, Image: rh2ox/Flickr

Your faithful four-wheeled companion — the one that costs you an arm and a leg but you still love it — has the data-gathering potential to make your life a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Researchers have found that a car’s computer network can identify a driver just by the way they operate the vehicle. Even something as simple as the brake pedal can pinpoint who’s behind the wheel, according to a report published in Wired. (Read More…)

By on April 12, 2016

texting behind the wheel of death

As the state of New York debates new distracted driving legislation, an Israeli firm is putting the finishing touches on a “textalyzer” device that could rat out drivers for using their phone before a crash.

Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite developed the data-scanning device, according to Ars Technica, which could become the newest — and most controversial — law enforcement tool since the Taser.

Cellebrite, which sounds like a medication for over-sexed honors students, specializes in data extraction and decoding, and boasts of its 15,000-plus military and law enforcement customers on its website. The firm really knows its stuff — it’s generally believed that they helped the FBI hack into the iPhone at the heart of the San Bernardino/Apple controversy.

(Read More…)

By on February 2, 2016

You probably don’t know much about Vigilant Systems, but the company likely knows more about you than you know about them. That because Vigilant Systems is in the business of knowing. The company has so far collected about 2.8 billion license plate photos with its network of cameras, and every month it adds another 70-80 million photos, including a timestamp of the photo and geographic location of the plate, to Vigilant Solutions’ permanent storage. They sell that data to police departments and, depending on the jurisdiction, even some private sector institutions, such as insurance companies investigating fraud.

Vigilant Solutions’ deals with government agencies have raised concerns about civil liberties, freedom of movement, privacy and mass surveillance. As Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic describes Vigilant Solutions, “your diminished privacy is their product.” (Read More…)

By on December 2, 2015

Two weeks ago, the B&B took the time to educate me about license plate readers and their various extra-legal uses. As someone who has worked at least part-time in the tech industry since the mid-90s, I started thinking about what the cost would be of a distributed plate-tracking business. Eventually the readers will be smaller and less obvious, at which point you throw a couple of bucks to Uber drivers and the like to toss them on all four corners and send you the data.

Given enough sources, eventually you’d be able to have a pretty good database of personal movement in your chosen area. That data is certainly worth money to someone, whether that “someone” is a real-estate developer, a fast-food franchisor or a private detective. Short of writing legislation specifically to stop such activity, I don’t see how anybody’s going to stop that business model from eventually becoming a reality.

In the meantime, however, there’s already one entity that has access to a nontrivial database of ANPR information. Good news! At least one government official has proposed that this information be used to save you from yourself.

(Read More…)

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