December 8, 2023

Modern automobiles are frequently called “computers on wheels.” They are equipped with automatic driver aid systems, huge displays, Internet connections, and a numerous ways to connect with smartphones.

However, in the race to be innovative and keep up with the competition with ever-changing technology, the process might have gotten too much. Certain advances have improved safety for drivers; however others are a step towards technological excess that could cause harm to drivers. The cars of the present generation may be more costly to repair, difficult to comprehend and operate, and, as some professionals in the industry suggest, they are more likely to trigger distraction and disengagement of drivers.

A report published earlier this week has suggested that the latest technology in cars is also a significant security risk to the privacy of data. The information was published by Mozilla Foundation, an Internet-focused nonprofit organization, and concludes that with regard to handling the personal data the present advanced cars are the most insecure product category for consumers that the organization has ever analyzed. Automobiles “have evolved into a privacy nightmare,” according to Jen Caltrider, director of Mozilla’s privacy reporting program. Because they include sensors for pressure and motion, GPS, cameras, smartphones, and microphones and sensors, modern vehicles have the ability to gather an array of data about their passengers and drivers. The study examined 25 well-known brands privacy policies and found that 21 of them allow automakers to sell or share customer information to third party service providers or data brokers, as well as other companies. Privacy policies of two brands–Kia and Nissan, even include an explicit clause that states that each business can gather and release information on the sexual orientation of its customers or sexual preferences.

It’s not clear if or what the automakers are conducting such activities. “Kia does not and has never collected ‘sex life or sexual orientation’ information from vehicles or consumers in the context of providing the Kia Connect Services,” claims Kia spokesperson James Bell. He also says that the brand incorporates this category into its privacy policy in order to determine “sensitive personal information” under the California Consumer Privacy Act. Nissan spokesperson Brian Brockman similarly says, “Nissan does not knowingly collect or disclose consumer information on sexual activity or sexual orientation,” and states that laws in the state like California’s demand that the company disclose any information that is accidentally drawn from other data, like location-based tracking.

Yet the permissive policies can be a source of concern in any way they’re implemented, says Caltrider. The information may be used against people who are vulnerable. For instance, several automobile brands’ policies suggest that they could give customer information to U.S. law enforcement or government officials, without warrants. In states with strict laws on health care the data collected can be utilized as evidence against women seeking an abortion or gender affirming treatment. These sensitive customer records can also be a target for unlawful attacks. 17 of the 25 car manufacturers had some kind of data breach, leak or hacking in the last three years, as per this Mozilla report. Privacy concerns regarding data is among the issues that are often not seen as if it’s a problem until there is, according to Caltrider. “It may not be affecting your life right now. However, you may not be aware of it until suddenly it happens and you have any control or choice in it.” Caltrider says. The change will likely be made at a policy level according to Caltrider. There isn’t a federal privacy law that governs data collection however, and only few states give residents the right to request the deletion of their personal data upon request.

Privacy isn’t the only thing that drivers have to pay attention to. This Mozilla Foundation report’s findings are only the latest in a long line of concerns experts have expressed regarding the technology we use within our vehicles.

The actual cost of high-tech cars can be a bit complex, but one aspect is cents and dollars in a straightforward manner. Repairing cars with advanced driver assistance technology or other features that are heavily computerized could cost at least three times more expensive than similar maintenance on cars that do not have such technology according to Greg Brannon, director of automotive industry relations and engineering for the American Automobile Association (AAA). In addition, not all repair establishments are equipped to fix the vehicles. Replacement of the windshield, for example, “used to be a pretty straightforward operation,” Brannon states. Some vehicles today require special glass that permits the internal cameras to work. In these vehicles the cameras have to be calibrated after installation of the windshield and this adds another step in the process. They do allow some driver-assistance functions that provide a distinct safety advantage: automated emergency braking that has been refined and tested over the past decade, is now an standard for all new vehicles and is able to dramatically reduce the risk of crashes, Brannon says. “But there is a cost to that,” Brannon says, “and particularly a cost that comes with the repair of that vehicle.”

Beyond the cost of repair In the end, many drivers are unhappy with the modern features and frequently experience issues with parts like complex door handles, informational interfaces, and wireless chargers for phones. According to Brannon’s opinion it is likely that time will aid in reducing some of the additional costs and problems for repair shops and drivers when these types models of automobiles become prevalent. It’s also difficult to quantify the value of increased safety. However, Brannon says that not all the new technology and car designs are increasing overall safety.

“There is often a gap between what is marketed in those systems, both in the naming and in advertisements, and what the systems actually do in real life,” Brannon says. “The gap between those two things makes it a very dangerous situation for someone [who] does not take the time to understand the system.” Brannon offers an instance of partially automated features like adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping. Both require a driver eventually control the vehicle and remain vigilant on the road. However, Brannon claims that these functions may be described using terms like “traffic-aware cruise control” or “active steering assist,” which implies that a driver could leave a large portion of the work to the vehicle. In the worst case, there’s Tesla’s suite of assistance features that are labeled “autopilot” and “full self-driving”–despite the features not actually functioning in accordance with those names. In the year 2000, California passed an act that sought to oblige Tesla to alter its names so that they are less than accurate. Tesla has not responded to e-mails repeatedly asking for comment on the article.

The new car owners don’t receive instructions about when and how to utilize these automated functions. In the end “a lot of drivers and other road users don’t really have a good grasp of what this technology is for, how it works and its limitations,” says William Horrey, technical director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety which is AAA’s nonprofit branch. Certain functions are designed to be utilized only in certain situations for example, on highways, but not in more complex urban settings, for instance.

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