The Connected Car: Access to information or loss of privacy?

haydn.thompson Friday November 24, 2017

The automotive industry view is that car-to-infrastructure and car-to-car communication is the future. A challenge though is that currently there is no internationally agreed standard. As car sales are worldwide any communication standard needs to cover Europe, North America, Japan and China. A critical issue is the quality of the standard, as this needs to work in all areas. Good progress has been made in developing a standard for short-range communications (See CAR2CAR) but more advanced applications require extensive and very expensive road infrastructure deployment. The current obsolescence cycles of electronics (18 months), cars (10 years) and typical renewal cycle of road infrastructure (30 years) present major difficulties. In an ideal world the vehicles and infrastructure would be simultaneously updated to the level of the newest technological opportunities. The reality is that this would not be possible in practice so how do we successfully roll out the technology? The benefits of connectivity are in providing routing information, traffic information, location based services (i.e. where is the nearest charging station if you have an electric car) and also in monitoring car parameters (for instance to schedule maintenance at a garage). However, increased connectivity may also have negative impacts. Having a connected car also means that it is possible to track the car, the occupants and car parameters such as speed. This could be done at the state level (such as by law enforcement to monitor speeding) or by insurance companies to understand how you drive, how often and where. Thus it is also necessary to consider privacy of data. Currently there are different social and legal understandings of privacy in different member states across Europe and indeed worldwide. While local laws may differ, to reflect different social expectations, a single regulatory framework will be required to allow cars to operate freely across Europe. So connectivity is likely to result in a loss of privacy. At the same time there is a far more ominous issue with providing connectivity. Security is a major concern and increasing connectivity leads to exposure to criminal intent and potential terrorism. The opportunity to cause accidents and create major traffic disruption that paralyses a city are just two potential threats. So there will also be a need to develop appropriate cyber security measures to protect vehicles and traffic management infrastructure. Going beyond this it is clear that future systems must be designed to fail safe even in the presence of malicious attack. Future connectivity has the potential to provide many benefits to drivers but before this we need for globally agreed communication standards, agreement on privacy regulation and development of appropriate encrypted security standards all of which are huge challenges in themselves.