Privacy is one of the most important issues surrounding the digital age. One would think that, with all the attention privacy has been getting, and all the negative cases emerging, smart companies would read the tea leaves and stay within some bounds. However, apparently,that is not the case.
It was just made public that Mercedes Benz was caught with its hands in the privacy cookie jar. It has just admitted it has been spying on drivers of its vehicles. The company has confessed to fitting secret trackers in its cars (Did they think no one would look outside of Silicon Valley for privacy issues?).
Until now, these sensors did not ”officially” exist. Yet, they were installed in both new and used vehicles sold (or leased) by Mercedes dealers. The purpose, according to Mercedes, is to be able to pinpoint the precise location of the vehicle if “extreme” circumstances warrant it. Mercedes claims that the extreme case would be if customers have defaulted on the contract. Then, and only then, Mercedes claims, they would sensors be activated.
Hmmm… that is interesting. I know of few dealers who carry their own contracts. Especially ones that sell high-end vehicles.
However, all that aside, what this does show is a disturbing trend. The fact is that any data collected, can and, in all likelihood, is offered to willing buyers well outside of the limited application’s data collector’s requirement. And this will continue until there is strong legislation, and stiff penalties to curtail this activity.
There is a deeper issue at play here and it is much more complex than limiting data sharing.
This global issue of ubiquitous data collection from, virtually, every possible data collection point raises a new paradigm about privacy. However, there is a mitigating circumstance. In order to implement the full potential of “intelligent” networks, systems, infrastructures, etc., it will require compromising absolute privacy.
That is a scary conundrum, but it is true. The real question is not about data collection, but how the data is protected and managed after collection. Collecting it and using it to create intelligence is not a bad thing. In fact, it will have to be the de facto platform. Where it is out of control is what we do with it after it has served its purpose, which, in many cases is only a few moments. The data can be analyzed “six ways from Sunday” and the data, analytics and metrics around the data can be stored forever. But the owner and owner information should not.
Therefore, when Mercedes added it was sharing car owner information and vehicle location details with third-party bailiffs and recovery firms who repossess the cars, things got a bit clearer. And, you can bet that these repo men and skip-tracers do not give a tinker’s damn about privacy.
Interestingly, and as usual, under devious intent and buried in the fine print, buyers gave away their right to privacy in purchase contracts through Mercedes. In a statement, former Brexit Minister David Davis (this came to light in the U.K.) called for an investigation and noted that “This is not the first time big business has behaved like Big Brother — but it’s rare to be quite as deceitful as this.” Well, perhaps he is not as connected to social media as some.
This is an interesting allegory in the overall privacy ecosystem. It is quite a bit removed from the bulk of occurrences in the social media scene. However, it is not the first time a concern has been raised over vehicles eavesdropping on it passengers. There have been an increasing number of articles published in the last couple of years that smart cars are collecting data, and the repository of data is being used for the same end game as with social media – selling this data to 3rdparties. However, it has not garnered the headlines that social media has. Nevertheless, it is prominent and, as devious.
If every coffee cup in the world is intelligent and sends the data of how many time per day it is used, what kind of coffee is put in it, is it black, or sweet, or specialty, back to Tarbucks –– who cares? You are welcome to add my coffee drinking habit to your database and analyze it along with others so you can have my favorite coffee on hand in anticipation of me buying it – gey gezunt (Yiddish for knock yourself out). If this helps Tarbucks to optimize their coffee business, why should I care? However, if they want to personalize my coffee experience, they better let me know that is what they are going to do, and it better be as plain as the proboscis on my face.
That is the bottom line. Do what you want with my data. But let me know and get my permission! And make double, triple and quadruple sure it is not in fine print, buried or convoluted. Once that is in place, the privacy issues is now in my court.