Insights & Connections

Computerization of Cars Gives Rise to Concerns About Hacking, Privacy

Systems connected: Transportation, cybersecurity, privacy

by / March 28, 2016
General Motors tests semi-autonomous driving software in a simulator. General Motors

At the state level, the conversation surrounding autonomous vehicles has largely been about whether to allow fully driverless cars and how government can set up attractive test beds for automakers to develop their technology.

But at the federal level, a few different conversations are taking place. When the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation met with leaders in the autonomous vehicle industry on March 15, two large issues were cybersecurity and privacy.

That’s because autonomous vehicles don’t just present an opportunity to revamp urban transportation systems — they also present a new frontier of data gathering. Autonomous vehicles will necessarily have lots of computing power and connect with outside systems such as GPS and automakers. Those automakers might be able to collect information about where people are going and when, the health of the vehicles, or any number of things they decide to build into the cars. In some cases, regulation might even require those automakers to keep certain information on hand, such as the circumstances surrounding collisions.

The questions that arose during the committee hearing were to what extent automakers could use that data. Could they collect it and sell it to third parties for marketing purposes? Could they tie information to specific people?

And then there’s concerns about keeping cars safe as they become more computerized and connected. Legislators on the committee want to make sure that automakers meet minimum requirements of cybersecurity so that hackers can’t use the cars maliciously or dangerously.