As self-driving vehicles become more common, the question of how much data they gather and who has access to it is going to become a significant topic of debate. A new bombshell report from the AP makes clear just how much privacy drivers have to lose and what the stakes are in this fight.
China has been requiring all electric vehicles to report a great deal of information directly to the government, which presumably logs it as part of China’s effort to deploy its social credit system, the report said. Over the last few years, China has aggressively deployed a pervasive surveillance metric that it claims will be ubiquitous and all-encompassing by 2020. The government’s stated goal is to monitor the public and private behavior of every citizen to create an overall social ‘credit’ score. Citizens who score poorly face travel bans and a host of other sanctions. The children of parents with low scores will be disallowed from certain private schools, while individuals themselves will be blocked from holding certain jobs.
than 200 manufacturers participate in the program, which turns over precise location to the government along with “dozens of other data points.” The Chinese government claims that the information it gathers is used to improve public safety, detect fraud, and for better infrastructure planning. This may all be true — but the potential for surveillance goes far beyond simply analyzing traffic flow to plan better roads. EVs in China report “at least 61 data points, including location and details about battery and engine function.” As for the owners of the vehicles, they aren’t informed that this data collection is taking place at all. And while EVs occupy a small slice of the Chinese market at present, China has set an aggressive goal to move 20 percent of the auto market to EVs by 2025. By phasing in the surveillance requirements on EVs first, Chinese officials gave themselves time to develop a scalable solution rather than attempting to roll out a new capability across the entire auto market at once.
We’ve covered the issue of license plate surveillance in the United States on several occasions and touched on the significant issues it raises. As anemic as American laws are where the subject of privacy is concerned, Chinese laws against mass surveillance of this sort are nonexistent. And while the auto manufacturers initially offered a variety of reasons why they couldn’t or shouldn’t share data with the Chinese government, the government apparently got around these objections by throwing money and benefits at them.
“The automakers consider the data a precious resource,” said a government consultant who helped evaluate the policy, and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues. “They gave you dozens of reasons why they can’t give you the data. They give you dozens of excuses. Then we offer the incentives. Then they want to give us the data because it’s part of their profit.”
The majority of auto manufacturers either emphasized that they followed Chinese law when the AP asked about this situation or had no comment. The head of Nissan’s Chinese operation, Jose Munoz, claimed to be unaware of the monitoring situation until the AP briefed him. When asked if he was concerned about potential human rights abuses or commercial conflicts inherent to sharing this data with the Chinese government, Munoz is said to have “shrugged and smiled.”
“At Nissan, we are extremely committed to the Chinese market,” Munoz told the AP. “We see it as the market that has the greatest opportunity to grow.”
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