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Automobiles Invading Our Privacy


1-Navigation Systems-flickr-Selbe B
Photo credit: Selbe B / Flickr

In today’s world, electronics are literally everywhere. From the cell phone in your pocket, the Xbox or PlayStation hooked to your HD television, to the traffic camera on the corner, electronics that can pinpoint our location have become ubiquitous.

And nowhere has electronics become pervasive as in our cars. Today, with all of the electronic and computer controlled subsystems in our cars, not only have they become more reliable and safer, but they also have the capability of completely invading our privacy.

Here are just a few ways our vehicles do just that.

GPS Systems

For cars with built in navigation systems, or for those with the ‘convenience’ of immediate crash response, a GPS (Global Positioning System) sensor is embedded in our vehicles.

This sensor not only allows the navigation system to know where we are in relation to where we want to be, it also pinpoints our location in case of an accident. However, it also pinpoints our location at any time, regardless of whether we’re in an accident or not.

Occupant Sensors

Not only do these sensors “tell” the car which seats are occupied, but they also tell the air bag system how large the passenger is as well.

This enables the air bag system to deploy differently for an overweight passenger versus a child. By combining this data with other information, deriving the identity of the people in the car is possible.

Black Box Data

Granted, the “black box” built into every new car is designed to help determine the causes of an accident. However, with the wealth of information that the black box gathers, not only is it possible to derive our driving habits, but in conjunction with the navigation system, it can tell virtually every place we’ve ever driven the car to.

While the black box keeps track of speed, brake usage, and a variety of other information about the condition of the car, it can also be used to keep track of communication usage and other reporting data, such as blind spot monitors, backup cameras and air bag sensors.

Crash Response Systems

Systems such as OnStar are designed to help car owners in a variety of situations. From providing directions to automatically alerting emergency personnel in the event of an accident, these systems are literally cell phones deeply embedded in our cars.

However, with the flick of a mouse button, these systems can actually be used to listen to the conversations taking place in the vehicle, or to even totally disable the vehicle whenever it is desired.

While these systems are designed to make cars safer, to make them more reliable, and to even catch criminals, the capacity to strip away all of our privacy exists.

Although most people have nothing to hide, the mere thought that a government agency such as the NSA, or even an individual with the technology and the know-how can track our every move, know who we’re with, and can even listen to our conversations without our knowledge is terrifying at best.

If you own a new car with crash response technology, navigation and occupant sensing air bags, the potential is there for your privacy to be non-existent.

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