I just bought a new car. I was being walked through all the buttons that have been added or changed since I bought the previous version of the same car 7 years ago when a new button caught my eye. This button is an SOS button. If I crash or breakdown, I press the button and the manufacturer can speak to me in the car, check out my position and send help.
I was bemused by this. I’m a low tech person when it comes to cars. I use a cheap portable satnav on the rare journeys where I need it and I don’t use a phone or an ipod or a laptop in the car so I have no bluetooth or wifi or gps gadgets installed.
At least I thought I didn’t
So how was the car manufacturer going to speak to me and how would they know where I was?
It turned out that the manufacturer builds a gps into every car whether you ask them to or not. With this GPS they not only know exactly where every car is but they can track where it’s travelled from and to and at what speed. The GPS unit links to the car’s sound system so the operator in the service centre can speak to me.
I was then asked to sign a form to say that it was ok for the car manufacturer to keep the gps tracking switched on and to store and use my data.
I said that I did not want this service switched on and asked to have GPS uninstalled. I was told that this would be difficult and expensive but they would happily switch it off.
I asked if it was switched off from the call centre or via a device in my car.
I was told it was switched off in the call centre.
This is not good news.
I have nothing to hide but I have a long-standing distrust of governments – all governments.
I now have something in my car that I can’t control that will tell anyone with access to the data where my car is all the time. I have an audio system that can be turned into a transmitter, allowing someone with access to the technology to hear anything said in my car.
To me this seems like a major invasion of privacy and offers a level of surveillance that would have dictators everywhere salivating.
When I looked up the background I found that the EU would like to have an “eCall” or emergency call system in every new car by 2015. Go here to see the details.
At the moment this is being sold as a safety initiative. One does have to wonder why every car in Europe has to run on the same system unless there is a need to track the cars across borders.
At a future point, I can see insurance companies asking for the data to arrive at premiums. I can then see them selling the data on to others and failing to protect the data from hackers.
If this technology is seen as benign then it will be easy to get the public to accept upgrading it so that there is more proactive peer-to-peer data exchanges between cars as they move. This could reduce accidents, relieve traffic congestion and improve insurance premia for safe drivers.
It would also allow cars to be tracked, channelled and stopped or targeted with weapons systems with minimum effort.
Paranoid? Maybe. How much do you trust the unelected European Commission that sets these rules?