Facebook’s privacy problem in the era of self-driving cars

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congressional committees on his company’s handling of personal data in the run-up to the 2016 U.S.elections. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG


Shiraz Ahmed, left, is assistant editor for mobility and Katie Burke is Silicon Valley reporter for Automotive News.

This post originally appeared in this week’s Mobility Report newsletter. Click here to sign-up for news and insights related to the future of transportation, delivered straight to your inbox. 

All eyes were on Washington this week as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced Congress to answer for the widespread data-sharing controversy involving political data firm Cambridge Analytica. At one point Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked Zuckerberg, “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”

“Uh, no,” the tech executive replied.

“If you’ve messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” Durbin followed up.

“Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here,” Zuckerberg said.

“I think that might be what this is all about — your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy and how much you’d give away in modern America,” Durbin said.

Durbin’s point, that most people wouldn’t agree to share much of the information they inadvertently do by using Internet services, is an issue that could be magnified in the age of shared autonomous vehicles.

The industry already has grappled with privacy issues. In 2014, General Motors found itself in hot water when critics pointed out a feature in the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray that allowed owners to use audio and video to monitor the interior of the car could be used for nefarious purposes. With the advent of connectivity and an increasing array of cameras and sensors around the vehicle, self-driving cars could become the equivalent of Big Brother on wheels.

But the real challenge carmakers will need to deal with isn’t faceless hackers, it’s the situation Facebook is answering for: business partners and suppliers playing fast and loose with the data they are supposed to be guarding.

“Manufacturers are collecting data from your use of the app, and there’s a back channel going to somebody you have no relationship with,” said Brian Wassom, a privacy attorney at Warner Norcross & Judd in suburban Detroit. “It’s not just the OEM. It’ll be any one of hundreds of different suppliers or software authors — service providers that provided some sort of component that may violate privacy.”

And as vehicle technology advances, these companies may clamor to monetize the vast amount of data they’ll be able to collect — from the hotels you like to visit to all the people you talk to on your daily commutes. Automakers, suppliers and tech companies must come together to continuously improve best practices for data ownership and consumer communication while they’re still in the early stages of development. Otherwise, they may find themselves in Zuckerberg’s seat 10 years down the road.

By Automotive News