07.06.21

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Today’s Cars Have a ‘Privacy Tax’

Posted in Deception, Free/Libre Software at 4:56 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Tax or Taxi (can be hitched anonymously)

Is this you? Yes. Why no 'app'? I value my privacy. Want a discount? Naaa... But I'll pay you! Whatever.

Summary: The lustre or the appeal associated with driving is mostly gone for those who value their human rights and general dignity; like those proctoring malware things (spying on people who take exams inside their own homes), many cars nowadays spy a lot on drivers and passengers

THERE’S a plethora of different issues related to cars which we’ve covered here before, e.g.:

Today we’d like to deal with privacy aspects or, contrariwise/conversely, mass surveillance. It’s getting worse all the time and it has been getting worse for years. I stopped driving quite some time ago, so I mostly lost touch with the changes and I mostly rely on what friends tell me and show me.

The first reference above is only days old. It mostly dealt with drivers’ loss of control over the car they claim to “own”, among other aspects like planned obsolescence (it’s always a lot faster with high-tech stuff). The appeal of modern cars usually boils down to superficialities and gimmicks. We said we’d follow up with another article, especially regarding privacy aspects of technology inside cars. It’s a very broad subject and not one I’m proficient enough to write about based on personal experience. So I spoke to Ryan, who explained the situation in the United States. It sounds like it has gotten a lot worse there than it currently is in the United Kingdom, based on conversations and observations.

Ryan said “there’s the insurance devices/apps that spy on you promising discounts and then that can backfire horribly. They say in the tiny print you may save 10%, or you may pay 26% more. That’s kind of a ‘You have more to lose than they do.’ proposition.”

While the spying inside cars might not be absolutely obligatory (for now), people get discounts to be spied on or, conversely, they rip people off for not installing and carrying around malware inside the car. “I just don’t believe my privacy is worth a 10% discount on some car insurance that probably costs me $900 a year,” Ryan said. “But, in fact, it won’t even be that.”

“10% is the most you can save. And you may pay a LOT more than if you’d never signed up,” he added. “Put otherwise, “You might save up to $90, or you may pay up to $260 more per year if you put this device on your car, but either way you tell us all sorts of things about you.”. With Root it’s an app, with Progressive or Geico it’s either an app or a device plugged into the vehicle diagnostic port that you send back to them when they’re done. They say it goes for a test period, which is certainly true if you don’t have the device anymore, but with an app….who really knows?”

I asked Ryan if people get penalised for turning it off. “With MetroMile,” he responded, “you pay by the mile, and you pay the maximum daily rate of 300 miles each day it’s not plugged in. And you have to leave it plugged in permanently with MetroMile, but they say if a mechanic or a smog testing site takes it out for a few hours, you’re fine. Just make sure to get it back and plug it in again.

I then asked, “how do they know you drive without it?”

“The OBD II port maintains power to the device,” he responded. “It wakes up and talks to them over the cell network every so often and then goes back to sleep. So it’s plugged into your car and it’s hooked up to the cell network. It has an LTE modem in each unit. If you cancel your policy they send you a device return kit, postage paid, and you get 30 days to get it back, or pay a $150 penalty.”

Regarding the passage of data about drivers and passengers, there are many ethical issues and it is assured to worsen over time because they collect/retain tons of data for decades. Ryan said, “at the time I used it, their privacy policy said that they didn’t sell your data to others, but privacy policies change all the time, and most include a clause that they either don’t have to inform you and that by continuing to use it under a revision to the policy you agree to the new one. Or they’ll slip you a notification like Comcast did this month. ‘Hey, we’re putting in a forced arbitration clause on all our customers, and if you use Comcast past July 3rd, you agree.’ Unless you’re constantly paying attention for subtle changes to privacy policies for everything you use, a lot of the time you’ll miss important changes which are not good for you. Microsoft does this.”

There are also unintended or unforeseen threats.

“There was an article about buying a used 2007 Chevy truck and yanking out a hard drive and finding out tons of info about the previous owner that wasn’t wiped,” Ryan concluded. “Vehicles themselves have been doing quite a lot of spying for a while now. The OnStar Button in the 2003 Impala still works. The law requires them to call emergency services if you press it and ask for it. They can still tell where you are.”

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