“People are being duped into giving away a whole lot of information that maybe somebody ought to ask us about first,” said Dorothy J. Glancy, a Santa Clara University law professor who studies privacy and transportation. “It seems to me you ought to get a choice.”
The Internet system used by Ford, which last week announced greater integration with the popular music app Spotify, relies on a user’s smartphone to connect with wireless services.
The integration between car and smartphone means that some vehicle data can be made available to developers through an open Internet platform, allowing for a new generation of apps that draw on the information, said Ellis, the Ford technologist who heads its developer program.
Also in Barcelona, General Motors announced plans to install high-speed wireless connections on all of its vehicles beginning with the 2015 model year, in partnership with AT&T. The new system will augment OnStar, which long has provided some GM customers with directions, emergency assistance and help recovering stolen cars.
One of the prototype vehicles on display here, a dark blue Cadillac ATS sedan, was outfitted with OnStar, streaming video, music apps and cameras aimed at both the interior and exterior of the car. In demonstrations, one of the car’s interior cameras took short video clips of occupants that were incorporated in animated sequences broadcast on the dashboard video screen.
Stefan Cross, an executive with public relations firm Weber Shandwick, which was assisting in GM’s announcement of the new technology, said one possible feature would alert owners by text message if their car is bumped or hit. Owners might then be able to activate the exterior cameras remotely for immediate visual reconnaissance.
“It allows somebody to stay connected to your car even if you’re not in it,” he said.
Cross said GM would protect the privacy of its customers, even as the volume of data increases. “We have that data. We’re just not prepared to release it to third parties.”
Yet experts say that in the absence of strong national privacy laws, valuable data often leaks out. Any information produced by a vehicle and transmitted over the Internet ends up on servers, making it a potential target for authorities, lawyers engaged in court cases or hackers. Companies also can make some data available to app developers in pursuit of better products for customers.
The Federal Trade Commission has repeatedly taken action in recent years against technology companies — including cellphone maker HTC last month — for failing to adequately protect personal data collected from customers.
The prospect of the government gaining access to rich new streams of personal information worries some privacy experts. Vehicle data could be used to generate tickets or prosecute drivers after accidents.
“As soon as that data starts flowing to outside parties, whether app developers or [wireless] carriers, I start getting nervous,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union. “It raises the prospect that control over individuals by police, by insurance companies, by whoever, might become much more finely grained than we have now.”