The dark side of connected cars

10 Dec 2015

As featured in DisruptiveViews

Are you getting just a little bored hearing about the benefits of connected cars? It wasn’t that long ago all we worried about was the size of the engine, how fast it went, how good it looked and how many gizmos it had on the dashboard.

The most popular technological advance of the recent past was the introduction of in-car entertainment to keep the screaming kids quiet in the back. Oh, and we can’t forget those brilliant GPS systems that cost a small fortune to buy and another small fortune to be kept up to date with the latest maps. Weren’t they popular with the petty crooks that looked out for the rings the mounts left on your windscreen before smashing a side window and raiding the glove compartment?

But today’s connected car is just one step away from being an all encompassing means of transport that will drive itself, and presumably you, from point A to B. It will be equipped with internet access, allowing it to share internet access with other devices both inside as well as outside the vehicle.

The built-in smart functions already available include music/audio playing, navigation, roadside assistance, voice commands, contextual help/offers, parking apps, engine controls and car diagnosis as well as automatic notification of crashes or road blocks ahead, poor road conditions, notification of speed traps and even safety alerts.

A plethora of sensors not only monitor the vehicle functions but the passenger functions as well. Some insurance companies are offering ‘safe’ drivers discounted policies based on their driving patterns monitored by the car itself – a sort of role reversal. Devices can even sense driver awareness and sound warning signals if he/she is dozing off.

These are all positive and endearing features but as I pointed out some time ago, how long will it be before the same technology alerts the police that you are speeding. In fact, it won’t be long before they cut out the middle man and just send you a ticket by SMS direct to your smartphone whilst you are driving and debit your bank account at the same time.

Sounds far-fetched? Not really. Connected cars have recently helped apprehend a hit and run driver in the USA and found the body of a buried murder victim and pointed the finger at the most likely suspects in Thailand.

In the first instance, police responded to a hit-and-run in Port St, Lucie, Florida last week. The victim, Anna Preston, said her vehicle was struck from behind by a black vehicle that took off. Preston was taken to the hospital with back injuries.

Around the same time, police dispatch received an automated call from a vehicle emergency system stating the owner of a Ford vehicle was involved in a crash and to press zero to speak with the occupants of the vehicle.

The person in the vehicle, Cathy Bernstein, told dispatch there had been no accident, only that someone pulled out in front of her and that she was going home. She said she had not been drinking and didn’t know why her vehicle had called for help.

Police went to Bernsteins’s home and, you guessed it, found that her vehicle had extensive front-end damage and silver paint from Preston’s vehicle on it. Bernstein’s airbag had also been deployed.

She eventually admitted to the hit-and-run and that she had also talked to someone at Ford and told them she had not been in an accident. It was later discovered that Bernstein had been involved in another accident prior to the one with Preston and was fleeing from that incident. Bernstein was arrested and taken to the St. Lucie County Jail.

Police in Chonburi in Thailand dug up the body of 38-year-old male from a grave in wasteland where his killers expected their victim would go undetected.

The man had been beaten unconscious at his rented villa in Pattaya and driven away in the back of a Toyota Vigo pick-up truck – without the gang knowing the hired vehicle was fitted with a GPS. Security guards had noted the registration number of the pickup and police were able to trace the route it took from GPS records and, when the record showed the vehicle had stopped for two hours, officers knew where to dig.

But that’s not all today’s cars can do. How long before they start transmitting or recording your conversations, videoing your activities and even prompting you which service station to pull into when you are running low on fuel. Some of that information would be very valuable to businesses on your route, even more valuable to criminals wanting to know how far away from home you and the family might be before robbing your house.

Let’s not even think of what a hacked connected car could get up to. Oh, we already know that. It would be fair to say that with all the connected devices we have in the house, the surveillance systems in place at public places, what our smartphones know about us and even kids toys relaying information, the car was the last place our anonymity was able to survive – but not for long!

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