Self-driving cars: No hands, no privacy?

Driverless cars are a hot topic. Google recently gave the media rides in the self-driving cars the company has been testing, then unveiled its own cuddly, steering wheel-free and pedal-challenged robocars last week. People are getting excited about the possibilities. For example, Larry Magid writes for the Mercury News about the advantages self-driving cars could bring, including improved efficiency for the busy, and independence for those who can’t drive. But as the excitement builds, so do the concerns — and a top concern is privacy.

“If we don’t pay attention to how they are developed now, driverless cars won’t be a symbol of individual freedom as much as another way in which we’ll have given into the surveillance state,” writes Dan Gillmor for the Guardian.

Camille Francois, a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, writes for Wired that self-driving cars that can track our physical whereabouts might be the thing that finally pushes people to care about pervasive surveillance. (Although she uses her grandmother, a person who doesn’t own a smartphone and doesn’t live an always-connected life, as an example.) Still, Francois says “self-driving cars are one place we can start to get it right,” echoing Gillmor’s sentiment above — that we need to get in front of the privacy issues as autonomous cars start to hit the roadways, not after they’re zipping along on our freeways and streets.

But as we wrote recently, it took a while for California to come up with rules for testing self-driving cars that addressed safety and liability issues. Because privacy concerns might be even thornier, establishing related rules and accepted practices could take even longer.


Above, an artistic rendering of Google’s self-driving car (Google via Associated Press)


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  • So the government would be able to track all its citizens, is that what you’re saying? 😮

  • William Grgurich

    Gee, I always thought driving was fun. Some problems with traffic, trains and other influences made it a chore. The most frustrating is locating parking and recent information suggests 30% of a drivers time is spent finding a spot to park. Before self driving becomes available, wouldn’t it be awesome to have an application either on a smart phone or within the auto itself listing parking available nearest to your destination. Also having the rate and time for the meter/parking structure and if possible free parking and any restrictions, such as; street sweeping and any other restrictions.
    Another concept I have been thinking of for example is a corporation such as google has a company parking lot. Equip employees cars with self driving ability and the owner with a cell phone and the parking lot wired with available spots wherein the employee would be able to drive up to the drop off area near his or her entrance,exit the car and the car would then be automatically directed to an open spot. At the time the employee completes work for the day this person could call the car for pick up.

  • Tim Cantrell
  • I wonder how self-driving cars will affect limo companies and driving schools.

  • Wondering !!!
    Self-Driven Cars are really a good option for them which are too busy to drive a Car. These cars will definitely affect the Luxury Car Companies like BMW, Skoda etc. But, Are Self-Driven Cars able to cross crowds with Safety? How?