More than a year ago, in this space, I lamented the erosion of privacy. Not only are people becoming more comfortable living their lives in the public square, they seem also to accept, with little complaint, the collection of information about themselves in exchange, for example, for searching the Internet for free and the questionable pleasure of partaking in a virtual social life.
For the most part, it is only getting worse. Time magazine (September 22) carries a frightening cover line: “Never Offline.” The article inside discusses the newly announced Apple Watch, which it calls a watershed. It warns that the Apple Watch — which is expected to be an even more constant appendage to the human anatomy than, say, a Smartphone — tracks your movements, listens to your heartbeat, and puts your whole body online. “Exactly how personal do we want to get?” the magazine asks.
The bigger problem, of course, is that with this device, as with any other, intrusion into the wearer’s life goes beyond passive listening and tracking. Time points out that the information gathered will end up in unexpected places, something that these days happens with all information. It will be shared and/or sold — if you’re lucky, for benign marketing purposes. Scarier: it could be hacked and used with some nefarious intent. It has become abundantly clear that our information that ends up anywhere in cyberspace is no longer safe from unauthorized access. Among others, Target and Home Depot credit-card shoppers can attest to that, as can several starlets, albeit for different reasons.
Developments in the automotive world are conspiring to make our cars complicit in this “Big Brother” endeavor. The British newspaper The Telegraph (September 14) reports that by 2020 the number of cars on the road connected to the Internet will grow to more than 150 million. The car with 4G connectivity will enhance the driving experience by offering navigation tools, monitoring mechanicals, and providing entertainment. It will also monitor the motorist’s driving habits, a feat currently achieved through event data recorders (EDRs). Here, the newspaper quotes Jim Farley, Ford’s global vice president: “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it.”
The connected car takes exposure well beyond EDRs. Any data originating from the car can be collected, the newspaper writes, whether web surfing, e-mails, or other online activity. So, who owns the data? In this instance it seems the car manufacturers do. And just as your bank does, the car companies carefully circumscribe whom they will share the data with and when. And just as your bank does, the car companies word their “privacy” policies so broadly, a recent investigation found according to the newspaper, that it would “potentially allow for unlimited data collection and use.”
Having a cell phone in my pocket already makes me feel tethered. Knowing that my car has become a little tattletale will just add to the angst. Where are the days when a car meant a means of getting away from it all? You could point the nose in any direction that took your fancy and just go. You can still go, but you can’t get away.