Robot Cars: Continuous Collection, Safety, Privacy Issues

The idea of autonomous vehicles, constantly connected cars and data collection has been making waves for a while now. There are a variety of privacy issues involved in the connected car industry, some of which are only beginning to surface. The most obvious issue concerns location privacy, and also the non-stop collection of driving habits. This is a potential concern for those worried about auto insurance industry and traffic police viewing their driving data.

Privacy Issues

The connected car industry needs to consider the Fair Information Practice Principles, particularly on disclosures, consumer consent and control, data safeguards and retention policies and company accountability. Some industry observers are optimistic that privacy is being seriously considered in this new and growing industry. And it is indeed growing. For instance, one in five new cars sold this year will collect and transmit data outside the vehicle.

Some privacy challenges facing connected cars stem from the design aspect. For instance, car companies employ engineers who have been trained to design cars, not digital apps. Now that they must consider these new requirements, will regulators still hold car engineers to the same standards? Of course!

Another issue is that cars are built to last for many years. How can manufacturers design them for privacy considerations so far in advance? Technology and the way we use it is changing at a rapid pace. Does this mean that cars will require regular software updates, not unlike our standard OS? We must also consider generational differences; younger drivers may be less concerned or aware of privacy issues than an older driver.

There are currently no official rules around vehicle data. It’s still a grey area in terms of who owns the data generated by the vehicle, and who is responsible for conveying the privacy options. Dealer and manufacturer tasks are still unclear. Another thing is to consider various privacy preferences for the different drivers who operate the same vehicle. We must consider the diverse legal landscapes around privacy worldwide, and if privacy legislation conflicts with other requirements.

This is even more complicated when you consider data security. For most data, encryption is the obvious best practice, but in this situation, encryption can seriously affect the performance of a vehicle. It’s important to balance safety with privacy, which really comes to the forefront in the topic of connected cars. There’s a very real and direct link between harm and safety in terms of connected vehicles.

Moral/Ethical Issues

Another issue is the programming challenges involved in autonomous vehicles. Imagine that an autonomous car has to decide between crashing into one of two vehicles – a heavier SUV or a lighter compact car. It comes down to the physics of the situation, which brings into question the legality and morality of programming a vehicle to collide with or target particular objects.

Even if the harm is unintended, certain crash-optimization algorithms for autonomous robot cars would seem to require deliberate discrimination of vehicles deemed acceptable to crash into, such as a large SUV. The operators of such vehicles would bear this burden out of no fault of their own, other than requiring transport for their family. Something seems off here.

These programming designs run into several moral and ethical issues. SUV manufacturers and owners may have a legitimate grievance against the makers of autonomous vehicles that would favor crashing into them over smaller cars.

While these are rare scenarios, they are based in reality and they do give us something to consider as technology develops.


This article takes a look at the privacy, safety and ethics around connected and autonomous vehicles.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Privacy and system design – applying Fair Information Practice Principles (I.I.a.)
  • Privacy responsibility framework (II.B.)
  • System monitoring (II.D.)

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