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The Internet of Cars


As an estimated 48 million people prepare to travel the nation’s roadways over this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, the transformation of cars from mere modes of transportation to sophisticated computers on wheels is worth contemplating. Car manufacturers have become software companies, collecting massive amounts of both location and personal data. It is estimated that by 2021, 98% of all new cars sold in the U.S. and Europe will be connected to the “internet of cars.”

Modern cars have over 100 sensors that generate enormous amounts of data. This data spans things like where a driver regularly travels and the routes taken, where he/she fills up the tank, gets coffee, goes to work, eats out, shops, etc. With computerized dashboards and bluetooth, the data collected also includes whom a driver calls, the playlists he/she listens to, sports teams and/or talk radio followed, emails sent, and much more. Of course, the data generated will give feedback on safety and performance issues of the vehicle, too, such as gas mileage, emissions, braking, maintenance, and a whole host of things pertinent to safety, accident avoidance, and development of future innovations.


The key question is: what is done with all of this data? It is monetized. The monetization of car data on a global scale is set to become a $450-750 billion dollar industry in the next decade. Just as Facebook makes billions by using the data its profiles generate to allow advertisers to better target their ads, car manufacturers can sell the data they collect to third parties who develop innovations such as parking apps based on location data. But with detailed personal information on where a driver gets his/her morning cup of coffee, where he/she picks up the dry cleaning, where he/she orders dinner, goes to a movie, and whom he/she calls, advertisers have the ability like never before to deliver the right ad to the right person at the right time. It’s personalized advertising based on your personal data.


It is not difficult, then, to imagine that privacy concerns have been raised with respect to the collection—known in the business as “harvesting”—and selling of the data generated by vehicles. Car manufacturers point to the fact that the collection is voluntary, and people can opt out, but often the consent to the collection is buried in an obscure part of a lengthy lease or sale agreement. Furthermore, if a consumer does see the “permission to collect” notice in the contract, it is likely that the consumer does not understand the comprehensive nature of the data collection. Tracking the vehicle’s location sounds innocuous enough; learning the intimate details of a person’s daily life starting with a morning run and coffee and ending with their last phone call raises alarm bells. Even information about healthcare—what hospital or doctors the driver goes to and how often—is not protected because HIPPA does not cover information collected and disseminated by non-healthcare providers.

Data has become the product of the first two decades of the 21st century. Ensuring that privacy does not become the product of the next several decades will require global cooperation, attention, and regulation. Relying on the tech industry’s good intentions to protect our privacy in the midst of the huge amount of data it has harvested has not worked well to date; Facebook, Apple and Google are in the midst of a public reckoning as reflected in their appearances before Congress and their plunging stock prices (although there are admittedly other factors playing a role in their falling stock values). On the 115th anniversary of the founding of the first car company in America (the Ford Motor Company), the profound changes in the American automotive industry must be dealt with frankly, openly, and in a way that recognizes its shifting role in our broader culture.


If you or someone you know has concerns over the misappropriation of private information, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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