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Privacy Concerns over Autonomous Cars Join Safety Fears

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Your Car is Being Watched, But Are You Watching Your Back?

Self-driving Chevy Bolts have begun testing on public roadways in Michigan

Autonomous Chevy Bolt EV
Photo: © General Motors

A year ago, the first deaths in autonomous car crashes caught our attention. An Uber Self-Driving Volvo killed a pedestrian in Arizona, while a semi-autonomous Tesla Model X accident took the life of an Apple software designer just a week later.

Safety anxieties may be growing in the consumer’s mind about self-driving cars, but developers are working out the kinks. However, another trepidation that you should keep in mind is the privacy concerns over autonomous cars.

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Continuing down the rabbit hole

This level of intelligence is nothing new to our generation, as we have seen the rise of smartphones with smart homes and smart workplaces inhabiting our journeys at points A and B. Smart cars are the continuum of our venture into this new reality, and our privacy is at stake at every corner, if we are not responsible with it.

You must remain aware of your data and who or what you are sharing it with before you press that “Accept” button on your touch screen.


Self-driving cars will likely transport us from the hardware-driven equipment we have utilized up until this point to a “software-driven electronics device,” as Dinakar Munagala, president of California-based startup Thinci, put it.

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It’s been a process, but we have witnessed every mile of the journey. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, most of the cars today fall at level zero on its zero to five scale of vehicle autonomy, with modern cars fizzling out at level two.

  • Level zero. No driving automation control.
  • Level one. Driver must stay vigilant during use of systems like adaptive cruise control.
  • Level two. Automated systems can intervene with braking, accelerating, and steering, while driver remains ready to take back control at any time.
  • Level three. Driver can afford minor distractions behind the wheel like email or a YouTube video.
  • Level four. The car has the potential to drive itself.
  • Level five. Move over, occupant. Your car is in charge.

The boss level

Level five will involve the next-gen business networks that obsess over connected devices and artificial intelligence.


In this mode, cars will not just be driving themselves, but they will be talking to other cars and communicating with the environment around them. This is what we call a vehicle-to-everything or V2X connected model.

When this network is born, cybercriminals of ransomware will be scouting out ways to hack into the system and collect your data, and manufacturers will also be exploring ways to cash in on all the new data at their disposal via the advanced sensors and amplified connectivity tools in these vehicles.

Defense strategies

The United States may soon need to take a page from Europe and Canada, as these countries have already established that every citizen has complete control over his or her data. No data privacy regulation in the U.S. exists to this magnitude.

In order to stay ahead of hackers and keep autonomous vehicles safe and secure for their owners, a crucial security update infrastructure module will be needed. Like our phones and tablets, these new cars will grow obsolete and need replaced by more secure versions. However, we live in a society where cars are on the road for 150,000 to 200,000 miles before visiting that junkyard in the sky.

The big players in this industry expect to start rolling out the first autonomous cars next year through 2025, with 2030 being the latest. And while there are lot of issues to work out for your security and mine, I’m sure the bright minds of our nation have undisclosed plans in place.

This amount of knowledge however is far above mine, so for now, I’m going to stick to driving my 1.8-liter four-cylinder four-door sedan.