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Consumer Watchdog Seeks To Stop Google’s Driverless Cars On U.S. Highways Without Privacy Protections

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Wed, May 30, 2012 at 10:32 am

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Consumer Watchdog Seeks To Stop Google’s Driverless Cars On U.S. Highways Without Privacy Protections

Group Seeks Amendments to California Legislation

SANTA MONICA, CA –Google’s driverless cars should not be allowed on U.S. highways unless adequate privacy protections for users of the new technology are implemented, Consumer Watchdog said today.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit group urged the California Assembly to defeat a bill, SB 1298, that would allow Google’s driverless cars on California’s roads unless the legislation is amended to provide adequate privacy protection for users of the technology.

The call to amend or block the bill, SB 1298, came in a letter to Assembly Speaker John A. Perez from Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog President and John M. Simpson, the nonprofit group’s Privacy Project Director. They wrote:

“Without appropriate regulations, Google’s vehicles will be able to gather unprecedented amounts of information about the use of those vehicles.  How will it be used?  Just as Google tracks us around the Information Superhighway, it will now be looking over our shoulders on every highway and byway.”

Click here to read Consumer Watchdog’s letter.

“Consumers enthusiastically adopted the new technology of the Internet.  What we were not told was that our use of the Information Superhighway would be monitored and tracked in order to personalize corporate marketing and make Google a fortune,” the letter said. “Now that Google is taking to the freeways, we must prevent inappropriate collection and storage of data about our personal movements and environment before we allow Google’s robots to take to the roads and report back to the Googleplex.”

The California Senate passed SB 1298 unanimously. It is now under consideration by the Assembly.

The letter continued:

“Google claims its mission is to organize the world’s information and make it accessible.  However, when it comes to its operations and plans it is a black box.   We believe Google’s actions demonstrate that it cannot be taken at its word. Consider the Wi-Spy scandal, the largest wiretapping effort ever, in which Google’s Street View cars sucked up emails, passwords and other data from private Wi-Fi networks in 30 countries around the world… Google kept changing its story and still has not come clean.  The FCC fined the company $25,000 for obstructing its investigation of the incident. Google initially said the wire-tapping was the job of a rogue engineer but the FCC has found that, in fact, the company was well aware of the ongoing Wi-Spying activity.”

Consumer Watchdog said that Internet technology was implemented with little regard to protecting users’ privacy.  The group said society is playing catch-up for the failure to protect privacy.  For instance the Federal Trade Commission has called for the implementation of a Do Not Track system that would allow consumers to let websites know that they do not want data about their web surfing to be gathered.

The letter continued:

“Driverless technology is not commercially viable yet, but we are certain it will be available sooner than most of us would predict.  SB 1298 endorses Google’s driverless technology and allows its fleet of robot-driven cars to travel on California’s roads.  Sadly, the bill provides no privacy protection for the users of the coming technology.  The bill should be amended to ban all data collection by autonomous cars.  While we don’t propose to limit the ability of the cars to function by communicating as necessary with satellites and other devices, the collection and retention of data for marketing and other purposes should be banned. Unless the bill is amended, once again society will be forced to play catch-up in dealing with the impact of the privacy invading aspects of a new technology.”

The letter concluded: “SB 1298 must be amended to provide that individual data profiles about the use of a driverless vehicle cannot be compiled without the user’s permission and that permission should not be required for use or purchase of such a vehicle.  Without this amendment, we call on you to block SB 1298.”

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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