Currently, there is a lot of information being published about the future of mobility, such as networked or self-driving vehicles. Related to this development is the question of how we will treat the data which will be collected and accessible in our cars of the future.
Modern cars gather large amounts of data, often without the knowledge of the owner/driver, and this data can be passed on to other parties. As part of its High-Tech Strategy, the German government is undertaking research into the question of data protection in these cases and what kinds of solutions are possible.
When a modern car is taken to the workshop large amounts of data are available to the technician to help them understand the functioning of the vehicle. An issue arises, however, when data which is useful to the technician in diagnosis or repair is also available to an insurance company or the police, such as speeds travelled or acceleration and braking times. On the other hand, data about the music played in the car during journeys could also be made available to the music provider in order to improve or target the delivery of music. This issue is clearly one where service comes into conflict with data protection.
The question about how much data is passed on and to who it is made available cannot be easily answered, in general, or for individual car owners. However, it is important that everyone knows what happens with their data and can decide on how that data is accessed or transferred.
This question of data protection, or privacy, is the subject of the research project “Personal Data Protection in a Networked Vehicle” (in German: “Selbstdatenschutz im vernetzten Fahrzeug” or SeDaFa), being carried out by the the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology SIT, the universities of Darmstadt and Hohenheim, industry partners including the car manufacturers Volkswagen and Daimler, and data protection authorities. The project involves researchers from various disciplines, including computer scientists, engineers, psychologists, engineers and lawyers.
The primary objective of the project is transparency: the car user should be clearly informed which data are sent, and for what purposes it is used. On this basis, they should be able to make a decision about which data they do and do not share. But they must also be aware of how this data can be used, therefore allowing them to assess the risk of data disclosure (the second objective of the project).
Technically implemented data protection
The third objective of the project are technical solutions for the implementation of data protection. The ability restrict the transfer of data, partially or completely, is not problematic. However, the issue becomes more complex if (i) certain data must be passed on, while (ii) other data must be anonymised, and (iii) some data is not to be passed on at all.
While these questions are still in their infancy, in the long term the results will be of great importance for all of us. At present, various kinds of performance data can be collected by our cars, but as we move to electric cars and autonomous cars different kinds of data will be collected (such as the location of charging stations). In the case of autonomous cars, clearly data about the location and movement of the vehicle will be important. This creates the possibility of various companies and agencies being interested in the data the car collects and communicates.
Clearly, the development of arrangements and technical solutions to these questions will become increasingly important in relation to the totally networked vehicle.
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