Efficiency vs. Privacy

The NMA Foundation presents the Car of the Future weekly feature:

No matter which part of the spectrum you might reside with regards to technology, the reliance on tech will not be going away. Technology brings efficiency which could be a good thing if it were not for the fact that personal privacy might sometimes be at stake.

Case in point—using a phone app to control some menial functions on your smart car.

With the push of a button, you can lock and unlock the car doors, honk the horn and best of all—remember where you parked. This all seems like a great idea and makes life just a bit easier but not so fast. IBM researcher Charles Henderson says that after he sold a car several years ago, he could still control the car he just sold from his phone.

As a curious man, he tested the situation on cars from four manufacturers and found the same to be true. In a CNN report describing his test, Henderson said, “The car is really smart, but it’s not smart enough to know who the owner is, so it’s not smart enough to know it’s been resold.” He added, “There is nothing on the dashboard that tells you the ‘the following people have access to this car.’”

Henderson’s research found that only authorized dealerships have the ability to see which devices have access to the car and to manually remove a device from it. Allowing owners to revoke access to vehicles themselves seems obvious, but Henderson says things are not so simple. If a non-owner, such as a parking attendant, hotel/restaurant/night club valet or auto mechanic gains access to your car with bad intentions, he or she could remove the owner’s access and control. If you cannot gain control over the communication link between your smart phone and your smart car, you are indeed putting your privacy at risk. Is this worth it just so you don’t have to use your key to open your car door?

Another efficiency idea comes out of Europe and sounds like a good idea on the surface until you start to understand the interconnected efficiency of our future cars. A provider of an electric vehicle charging infrastructure, Oxygen Initiative has partnered with the German energy company called Innogy SE and plan to introduce blockchain based electronic wallets for drivers of electric vehicles or EVs. If you own an EV, this is great news because the blockchain technology would provide seamless payments for EV charging stations which would help solve the interoperability problem caused by different types of charging stations and payment systems.

This kind of payment system could support any e-mobility solution which includes autonomous, connected, electric and shared or ACES and fleets of autonomous vehicles, electric and shared (FAVES) technologies. Vehicles set up with this technology could essentially pay for themselves.

In the future, autonomous vehicles or AVs could go into taxi mode while the owner is at work, collecting fares from riders and pay to charge itself when needed. The technology would allow EV drivers to help utilities manage the power grid by delaying charging sessions helping alleviate the electrical load during peak demand.  A vehicle could even sell back excess energy which would again help pay for vehicle operations.

This kind of efficiency though could easily roll over for all vehicle users and help pay for tolls, peer-to-peer roaming charges, ridesharing/carsharing fees, and possibly even vehicle miles traveled taxes or VMT taxes. One of the biggest obstacles to VMT taxes has to do with how to track and pay for the tax easily and efficiently.

If we go even a step further (which might be a pretty short step) future blockchain technology could possibly evolve to the point of individualizing surveillance. Someone somewhere (law enforcement, criminals or that crazy-ex) through your blockchain link could find you, track you and know a great deal about you without you ever knowing. Privacy lost.

Maybe this much efficiency is not really worth losing personal privacy.

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The NMA Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation.  The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions. 

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If you are interested in learning more about the Car of the Future check out the following NMA resources:

NMA Driving News Feed—Over 50 Car of the Future stories are placed each month in the NMA Driving News—the go-to source for all your driving news information from around the country.

NMA’s Flipboard Magazine called Car of the Future—Over 50 stories are placed each month in this magazine devoted to the Car of the Future.  Stories featured include future car politics, industry news and thought pieces.

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If you have an interesting story about the Car of the Future, please feel free to send us a link to the NMA Email address nma@motorists.org.

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