The vehicles could build a ‘gold mine’ of personal data for private companies, and a profile of users, Queensland law expert says
Driverless cars ‘will know where you like to frequent ... and may very well build a profile of you’, says a Queensland University of Technology professor. Photograph: Rick Goodman/AAP
Driverless vehicles could build a “gold mine” of personal data for private companies and would make it easier for them to target people as consumers, an Australian law professor has warned.
Des Butler, of the Queensland University of Technology, said the privacy risks involved in driverless vehicles were a “sleeper issue” that regulators were yet to fully consider, even though car manufacturers say the technology could be on roads in Australia by 2020.
“These vehicles will know where you like to frequent, which businesses, and may very well build a profile of you,” Butler said. “People will go into these things not realising just how much data the vehicle will be generating about them and not knowing the extent to which the data can be used.”
On Thursday, the federal government formally launched a $55m bid to answer some of the questions that surround the nascent technology. The funding was awarded to iMOVE, an industry cooperative research centre made up of industry players and universities that want to develop technology to expedite “intelligent transport systems,” including driverless cars, in an attempt to reduce urban traffic congestion.
The managing director of iMOVE, Ian Christensen, said the goal was to play a role in “improving the movement of people and freight, in which driverless cars could play an important role”.
Christensen said the technology’s “largest benefit” would be reducing Australia’s road toll. There are about 1,300 deaths in Australia every year, and the annual cost of road crashes is estimated to be almost $30bn.
“It is a massive burden on the economy and the prospect for autonomous vehicles to substantially reduce the rate of accidents and trauma, therefore, stands to benefit the economy in a dramatic way,” Christensen said.
There are still gaps in the technology. Driverless cars still don’t know how to dodge kangaroos and last year a man in the US was killed when his Tesla Model S drove into a truck while in auto-pilot mode. But “at some level the technology is already developed or available”, Christensen said.
Last month, a parliamentary inquiry into social issues relating to the roll-out of driverless vehicles recommended the establishment of a national taskforce to deal with the “ownership, use and security frameworks applicable to the data generated by automated vehicles”.
It also recommended further investigation into establishing exactly who owned data produced by a car, and the rights of consumers, manufacturers, insurers and government agencies.
In its submission, iMOVE said people were “justifiably concerned about the collection of data and its subsequent use” and required a “clear understanding of what data is being collected” and why.
“Is it the consumer’s data? Is it the manufacturer’s data? Is it the government’s data? All those questions are currently being grappled with by the National Transport Commission,” Warren said.
Butler said any conversation about regulation needed to consider who owned the data and how it could be stored.
“It is a sleeper issue because the focus on these vehicles in the public eye is on safety, not on the privacy or data production aspect of these vehicles.”