Autonomous Car Privacy – 8 Scenarios to Explain the Enormous Complexity of this Issue
Over the coming years the conversations about privacy in driverless vehicles will become a delicate balancing act between privacy, security, and convenience.
Let’s consider a typical morning commute in 2030.
After summoning a car, it arrives quickly, recognizes you, and opens the door. “Good morning Mr. Johnson, where are we heading off to today?”
With facial recognition it already knows your most common destinations, and the stops you like to make along the way. But today is different.
“I’d like to pick up Mr. Norbert from Doggy Daycare and take him to my sister’s house in North Willows.” (Mr. Norbert is the cocker spaniel that he hates leaving at home while he’s gone. The sister’s house is already a known destination.)
“Would you like to stop for your regular cup of coffee before going to Doggy Daycare? I see a Tim Hortons along the way, would you like to stop there?”
“Yes, that would be nice.” (In this situation, Tim Hortons was suggested because the company paid extra to get premium placement on the car’s recommendation engine.)
“Would you also like to purchase a doggie mat for the backseat as well?”
“No he’ll be fine sitting on my lap.” (Since the car is already aware of Mr. Norbert’s bladder problems, sensors under the floor mats and seats are given a “monitor closely” alert.)
“Very well, will you be planning any trips this weekend?”
“Perhaps, I was thinking about taking Sally to the Fire House Bistro on Saturday evening.”
“Would you like me to make reservations for you at the Fire House Bistro on Saturday?”
“Yes, that’ll work. Let’s set the arrival time at 6:30 pm.”
“Very well, I’ll contact them now.” Two minutes go by. “The only times available for the Fire House Bistro on Saturday are earlier than 5:30 pm or after 8:00 pm. Would you like me to reserve one of those time-slots?”
“No, see if you can get a 6:30 pm reservation at the Capitol Club? And also, make it a reservation for four because we’d like to take our grandkids Jonathan and Beverly along.”
“Very well, I’ll contact them now.” Two minutes go by. “Good news, I was able to make a 6:30 pm reservation at the Capitol Club on Saturday for a party of four. Will you be needing car seats for your grandchildren?”
“Yes, I’ll need one carseat for Beverly.” (Once again, this request triggers a sensor alert for possible spillage and other messes.)
After stopping to grab a cup of coffee at Tim Hortons, we drive by a grocery store and a list of sale items appear on my screen. With a few taps, he adds them to his grocery list and a delivery service will drop them off this evening.
Just like every morning, my regularly scheduled conference call comes up and he finds himself part of discussion about next generation security systems for the office.
In this age of self-driving cars, an era when much of the minutiae of daily life is relegated to a machine, we can be as busy or as relaxed as we want to be. But overall, they’ll free up people’s time and attention to focus on other matters while they’re moving from one place to the next.
But there can also be a darker side to all this if you’re concerned about privacy. So let’s take a closer look at the privacy side of the equation.
In a driverless vehicle, privacy becomes a delicate balancing act with security and convenience!
Every trip we make in the future will have multiple parties interested in tracking our activities inside an autonomous vehicle.
Vehicle Owners – The company that owns the cars will want to know about any situation that could possibly compromise the ongoing operation of the vehicle. The list of possible “cleanup & repair” triggers will get more complicated over time:
- Spillage and trash
- Contagious diseases
- Known criminals
- Handicap people
- Illegal activities
- Terrorist activities
Governments – Since autonomous vehicles will be classified as “public transportation,” governments have an obligation to provide safe and efficient transportation while mitigating danger, and stopping harmful activities before they happen:
- Known criminals
- Handicap people
- Illegal activities
- Terrorist activities
Passengers – Anyone riding in an autonomous car will want a safe and inexpensive form of transportation:
- Safe and secure
- Easy to enter & exit
Advertisers – Having access to a captive audience is worth its weight in gold, however, it’s a delicate balance between being too intrusive and not enough. Contrary to what most people think, advertisers are not interested in spamming the world with ads. Rather, most are interested in specifically targeting only those people who will be interested in their products or services.
Loyalty Programs – Passenger rewards for being a frequent traveler will become a hot topic in the future. For this reason, having an automated system for logging trips and calculating mileage will become a critical feature.
AI Operating System Companies – The heart and soul of every autonomous vehicle operation will be an AI operating system that becomes increasingly anticipatory over time. Having the right cars in the right parts of the city at the right time will prove to be the first benchmark for performance. Beyond that, every AI operating system will get to know their passengers quite intimately, offering movies, games, music, recommending products, goods, and services, making accommodations for changes in jobs, lifestyles, and even working with quirky new passenger demands.
With driverless technology, our expectations will dramatically change!
Surveillance inside a vehicle will take many forms – visual surveillance with cameras, audio surveillance through microphones, GPS, sensors, air quality monitors, and much more.
As fleet owners offer customers a smooth, clean, comfortable ride from point A to point B, there are a staggering number of things that can go wrong along the way.
Whenever serious problems are detected, vehicles will be taken out of service until the problem has been resolved. However, any time a vehicle is removed from operation – either for cleanup, repair, spills, contagions, police activity, or any number of situations – expenses start mounting.
At the same time companies want to monitor what’s happening inside their cars, customers have many reasons why they don’t want anyone watching them.
Here are a few quick scenarios to highlight the size and scope of issues these companies will be dealing with.
1. Terrorist Scenarios
Autonomous vehicle companies will quickly become targets for hackers, hijackers, and any number of devious minded schemers. All parties involved – governments, passengers, and vehicle owners – will want to minimize these kinds of problems. When it comes to terrorist scenarios, problems will range from bombs, to poison, toxic cars, infectious diseases, spying on conversations, and more.
2. Divorce Scenarios
Many of those going through a divorce tend to have heightened levels of paranoia. With many worried that their qualifications and worthiness of being a parent will be called into question, many recently divorced people will want to travel incognito with their messy, unruly kids, dogs, and toys.
3. Celebrity Scenarios
At a certain point, fame becomes the arch enemy of being seen in public, and many will worry about word getting out at the driverless command center about their whereabouts. Paparazzi, stalkers, and even autograph junkies become a problem for those who just want a peaceful trip across town. These types of problems are quickly exacerbated when viral media stars and rapidly unfolding news stories focus a huge spotlight on anything they do.
4. Business Exec on Phone Scenarios
Many business executives routinely have phone conversations that, if overheard by those in competing businesses, could jeopardize the long-term competitiveness of their own company. Corporate espionage is alive and well, and operating at far more sophisticated levels than ever before.
5. Pets and Support Animal Scenarios
As the number of people living with pets continues to climb, pet owners increasingly expect their pets will be as welcome as they are wherever they go. With pets ranging from potbelly pigs, to chickens, dogs, cats, snakes, rats, miniature horses, parrots, and iguanas, the overall messiness of animals enclosed in tiny mobile spaces becomes a significant issue. Fleet operators will insist on specific “rider insurance policies” that will kick in whenever an animal is onboard.
6. Contagious Disease Scenarios
No one wants to contract a virus, infections, lice, allergens, or any other kind of transmittable illness inside a driverless vehicle. For this reason, fleet owners will have air quality monitors that continuously sniff and test air particles for anything remotely dangerous.
7. Messy Kid Scenarios
Even though you may love kids, few passengers want to climb into a car where an explosive diaper has been changed, a 32 ounce Big Gulp has been spilled, projectile vomiting is coating the seat-backs, or magic markers have turned the interior into a Picasso-wanna-be.
8. Wealthy People Scenarios
While rich people are willing to pay for absolute privacy, where all cameras, sensors, and recording devices are turned off, things will still go wrong, and fleet owners (and police) will want to know who is responsible. What if passengers get into a fight, blood everywhere, someone dies, or is thrown from the vehicle, how are these issues resolved?
The more personalized driverless vehicles get, the more conveniences they’ll offer!
When it comes to self-driving cars, the price of convenience is surveillance.
Massive amounts of data will be collected, as a natural extension of a driverless car’s functionality. These cars will rely on high-tech cameras, both internal and external, along with ultra-precise GPS data. This means cars will collect reams of information about the people they transport around, similar to the data Uber has amassed about its customers’ habits, but down to a level of detail that’s far more granular.
For self-driving cars to work, an enormous amount of data has to flow through their onboard sensor networks to be able to keep track of every car, person, or animal on the road.
The more personalized these vehicles get, and the more conveniences they offer, the more data they’ll have to incorporate into their operation. The future I described might be a few years away, but there’s no reason to believe it’s too far-fetched.
That said, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.