Ben Cresitello-Dittmar

December 7, 2017

Privacy Concerns of Self Driving Cars

While many people think of the convenience and accessibility that self driving cars will offer, we forget that like many luxuries, this will come at the cost of privacy. Self-driving cars rely on a plethora of sensors and data in order to both ensure a safe ride and also provide you with the convenient features that many will look for in AV’s. An article by The Atlantic lays out the scenario very clearly. When you get in your self-driving car to go to work, it will first suggest that it drives you to work. Then, along the way it may suggest a stop at a local coffee shop, then alert you to various sales for items you may need along your route to work. This may sound great, however, in order to make these suggestions, the car needs both intimate knowledge of your life and also may be biased to sponsored content. When it suggests to drive you to work, it draws on its knowledge of where you are throughout the day. When it suggests coffee or sales, it may give preference to business’s who have paid to have their results come up first. This poses two problems. First, by retaining the knowledge of your location at all times, your car could be a valuable source of information to a hacker. If you are always away at a certain time of day, a hacker could know the perfect time of day to break into your house. Second, by giving you the convenience of simply accepting the first stop that the car suggests, this could allow marketers to use your personal information for extremely precise marketing.

Infographic: Data and the Connected Car – Version 1.0

Considering these things are extremely important when it comes to how we proceed with the adoption of self driving cars. While governments have begun to make legislation surrounding self driving cars, this legislation tends to be very vague when it comes to privacy. The recent bill passed by Congress mentions security very briefly, however, it essentially says that companies must have a plan for keeping user data private and be clear to the consumer about how it will be used. This is a great start, however, it does not take into much consideration the level of security that must be used. For this reason, I think that it will be crucial that we regulate a minimum acceptable level of security when it comes to this data, similar to the minimum safety standards placed on vehicles today. The adoption of smart technology has already lead to a number of privacy and safety concerns in our daily lives and with the introduction of AV’s, these concerns will only grow. Privacy legislation has always been difficult to nail down because it is such a tough thing to ensure, however, it is a question that we will need to address in order to safely transition into a world dominated by autonomous vehicles.

In addition to personal privacy, there is a question as to what the legal precedent will be for turning this data over to law enforcement bodies. Recently there was the question of the FBI trying to compel Apple to unlock an iPhone. It is an Apple product, however, the data on the device is the property of the individual. Could the government compel Ford to decrypt the data on a self driving car in order to determine where someone has gone and where they will probably go? At first it seems like it would be reasonable for law enforcement to obtain data connected to a felon or terrorist, however, this has implications for the general consumer as well. If the company essentially builds in a back door that gives them access to ones data, this means that there is a back door that a malicious hacker could gain access to. In theory, a company should build security that not even the creators could circumvent in order to best protect users’ data, this may include some criminals but it also covers a vast majority of legal users that simply want their personal information protected from malicious parties. The political cartoon below illustrates this idea.


Privacy is a concern in any connected technology that utilities user data in order to operate however, self driving cars will have an unprecedented look into our personal lives, from our location to the environment around us that the sensors collect. With a city full of these vehicles, there will be no inch of ground that is not being recorded and processed.,,
Ben Cresitello-Dittmar
Computer Science