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Electric Cars And Driver Privacy

As much as we welcome introduction of electric cars and plug-in hybrids little is said about driver privacy. As more and more of them depend on electronics, are drivers right to privacy observed?


It’s true, electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and even modern day internal combustion powered cars come with a myriad of computers controlling on-board systems. In fact, electric vehicles are not just cars, they are rolling computer platforms and make up the smartest vehicles on the road today. These numerous computers and sensors also communicate through the Internet, giving valuable feedback to companies using the data to fine tweak tomorrow’s electric cars. With remote monitoring, control and other features, this unprecedented amount of data for engineers and companies comes with privacy concerns.

The Finer Balance. A decade ago, BMW found out that Blue Tooth connection wasn’t secured and anyone with a laptop could cruise next to a Blue Tooth enabled car and hack in. To the company’s credit, it acted quickly and closed many ports. Some engineers at Mitsubishi assured me the i MiEV had all ports locked down, making hacking it impossible.

As more and more iPhone and Android apps are written to take control of your car or monitor its performance, several electric car manufacturers use this data internally to further develop the electric platform. This is very much needed if we ever want our cars to truly answer our daily needs with real accurate data. To be fair, most manufacturers have very strict privacy agreements and generally don’t share the acquired data. After all, this data is used to understand the performance of such vehicles in real life scenario in order to develop an even better public. This is a competitive advantage. But there have been problems in the past where a vehicle indicated false readings and the manufacturer contacted the owner to fix the problem before it became a more serious one. Couldn’t a hacker take advantage of such situations?

Hackers Salivate At The Prospect. The incredible challenge and paradigm shift with electric vehicles of all sorts is monumental for carmakers. Car manufacturers have to not only master the art of making cars but also become full-fledged computer program writers, coders, and software analysts, so on, so forth. In this field, the car companies have taken two different approaches.

Tesla Motors uses the make-it-at-home, have-complete-control approach. Others choose to outsource and even use Open Source software in order to lower costs. Ford takes Microsoft’s Windows and adapts it to its system. In either case, the weakest link is always present and can’t be discovered until it breaks. In-house coding is only as robust as the amount of engineers working on it, while Open Source garners millions of eyeballs and doesn’t guaranty no back doors and other exploitable events.

While the advent of electric cars and plug-in hybrids are important to our sustainable future, the challenge is clearly on when it comes to harnessing the fairly new computer territory for car makers, software programming. In the meantime, consumer rights to privacy are secured by carmaker’s policy.