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US transport chief highlights privacy concerns over car technology

Warwick Ashford

The increasing use of computer technology in cars raises questions about privacy, says US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx.

He was referring to the increased use of GPS and computer systems in cars that give them the ability to connect to smartphones and other devices.

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A balance has to be struck between convenience and the safety and privacy of drivers, he told the North American Auto Show in Detroit.

Foxx’s comments follow privacy concerns raised by remarks by a Ford executive at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that the car maker had the ability to track drivers.

At CES, Ford's Jim Farley, global vice-president of marketing and sales, said the GPS systems in Ford cars enabled the company to know when drivers were speeding.

"We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you're doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing. By the way, we don't supply that data to anyone," he told attendees.

But after an outcry over privacy concerns, Farley issued a statement saying: “We do not track our customers in their cars without their approval or their consent.

“The statement I made in my eyes was hypothetical and I want to clear this up," he said.

Foxx’s comments also come after the US government accountability office (GAO) found inconsistencies in the way car makers handle data from car owners, reports the Guardian.

The GAO study looked at information collected by Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

The study also looked at data collected by GPS navigation device makers Garmin and TomTom and map and navigation app developers Google and Telenav.

The report said that “without clear disclosures about the purposes, consumers may not be able to effectively judge whether the uses of their location data might violate their privacy".

The report said drivers are often not able to delete their data and expressed concern that the data could be used in ways “consumers did not intend or may be vulnerable to unauthorised access”.

“Without the ability to delete data, consumers are unable to prevent the use or retention of their data, should they wish to do so,” the report said.


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