The recent controversy regarding data privacy that involved Facebook, one of the largest social media platforms across the world, and the British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica Ltd. introduced the world to the dangers of how ‘Big Data’ can affect our lives. And while the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg had to testify in front of the US Congress, apologizing for the breach of trust and promising to take better steps for protection of data, just the fact that the data collected could influence presidential elections in a democracy as advanced as the US is a pretty scary thought in itself.
Now, if you thought that such data mining was only restricted to the use of smart phones and social media networks, you couldn’t really be farther away from the truth. As the world is being increasingly connected, with smart appliances and even smart cars occupying a significant role in our lives, just about every move that we make seems to be getting recorded and stored in the form of data somewhere. And our greatest concern, at the moment at least, is that we don’t really know how exactly the companies are using the data. Even the potential risks of the companies selling our data to third parties haven’t been fully explored as yet.
Given that an average driver records about 300 hours behind the wheel, there is a tremendous amount of data being generated (about 25GB/hour according to the estimates of the consulting firm McKinsey). But exactly what kind of data does your car record? One of the most important sources of data for your car is the Global Positioning System (GPS) which keeps track of your car’s location and helps you navigate through lesser known places. Based on your location history, your car will most probably be able to figure out your home address, your work address and also a host of other places like restaurants, clubs or coffee shops that you regularly visit.
Apart from that, most cars also have a black box installed, that continuously monitors your speed, your braking patterns, as also other driving indicators. Remember hearing that seat belt alert every time you’ve forgotten to strap yourself in? Well, there are sensors on your seat that not only check whether you’re safely strapped, but also record other things such as your weight. Some of the newer ones, such as the Tesla cars (or even if you’re inside of an Uber for that matter), also have cameras installed that record whatever is happening in your car’s cabin. And if you have your phone synced into the car’s system, there’s a whole lot more than your car can record, including your private contacts, who you text or call, and even your entertainment preferences.
Now, while most of this data, for the moment, is being used by automakers and insurances companies to analyze your driving tendencies so as to make your vehicle more efficient and safer, as also to calculate your insurance premiums, the data could be well worth billions of dollars in the near future and could be used for just about anything, right from pushing certain preferred retailers and restaurants in your face (General Motors has already designed such an ecosystem called the ‘Marketplace’) to even restricting the information being provided to you regarding your car’s maintenance. And apart from not syncing in your phone to regularly changing your settings to factory default, there isn’t really much you can do about it either. Well, at least not till governments across the world decide to do something about it, that is.