NHTSA Wrong To Say Computers Count As Drivers Of Robot Cars, Consumer Watchdog Says; Google’s Own Data Shows Human Drivers Are Needed Behind Wheel

SANTA MONICA, CA – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is wrong to say the artificial intelligence guiding an autonomous robot car counts as the driver, Consumer Watchdog said today, adding that Google’s own test data demonstrates the need for a human driver who can take control when necessary.

“Google says its robot technology failed and handed over control to a human test driver 272 times and the driver was scared enough to take control 69 times,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “The robot cars simply cannot reliably deal with everyday real traffic situations. Without a driver, who do you call when the robots fail?”

Consumer Watchdog reiterated its support for regulations proposed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles covering the general deployment of autonomous robot cars on the state’s highways.

“The DMV would require a licensed driver behind the wheel,” Simpson noted. “If you really care about the public’s safety, that’s the only way to go.”

Commenting on NHTSA’s interpretation that the robot technology can count as a driver, Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation said, “We are taking great care to embrace innovations that can boost safety and improve efficiency on our roadways. Our interpretation that the self-driving computer system of a car could, in fact, be a driver is significant. But the burden remains on self-driving car manufacturers to prove that their vehicles meet rigorous federal safety standards.”

Consumer Watchdog said it will press NHTSA and the DOT to ensure that robot car manufacturers prove their cars are safe.  The group also called on NHTSA to learn from California’s experience with self-driving robot cars.

The companies’ own data in reports filed with the California DMV makes clear that a human driver able to take control of the vehicle is necessary to ensure the safety of both robot vehicles and other vehicles on the road, Consumer Watchdog said

Google, which logged 424,331 “self-driving” miles over the 15-month reporting period, said a human driver had to take over 341 times, an average of 22.7 times a month.  The robot car technology failed 272 times and ceded control to the human driver; the driver felt compelled to intervene and take control 69 times, according to its “disengagement report” filed with the DMV.
Other testing companies, driving far fewer autonomous miles than Google, also reported substantial numbers of disengagements to the DMV. Bosch had 625 disengagements with 934.4 miles driven. Nissan with 1,485 miles driven had 106. Mercedes-Benz reported 1,031 with 1,738 miles driven. Delphi reported 405 disengagements with 16,662 miles. Volkswagen with 10,416 miles reported 260.  Tesla claimed it had none, but did not say how many miles its drove.

It’s important to understand that these “disengagements” were promoted by real situations that drivers routinely encounter on the road, Consumer Watchdog said.  Among reasons cited by Bosch were failures to detect traffic lights and heavy pedestrian traffic.

Google’s robot technology quit 13 times because it couldn’t handle the weather conditions.  Twenty-three times the driver took control because of reckless behavior by another driver, cyclist or pedestrian.  The report said the robot car technology disengaged for a “perception discrepancy” 119 times. Google defines such a discrepancy as occurring when the car’s sensors don’t correctly perceive an object, for instance over-hanging branches.  The robot technology was disengaged 55 times for “an unwanted maneuver of the vehicle.”  An example would be coming too close to a parked car.  The human took over from Google’s robot car three times because of road construction.

“What the disengagement reports show is that there are many everyday routine traffic situations with which the self-driving robot cars simply can’t cope, said Simpson. “Self-driving vehicles simply aren’t ready to safely manage many routine traffic situations without human intervention.”

Read NHTSA’s interpretation here: http://isearch.nhtsa.gov/files/Google%20–%20compiled%20response%20to%2012%20Nov%20%2015%20interp%20request%20–%204%20Feb%2016%20final.htm

Read Google’s disengagement report here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/cadmvdisengagereport-dec.2015.pdf

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Bikes, Pedestrians, Other Cars and Tree Branches Among Real-Road Scenarios Robot Cars Can’t Handle

Consumer Watchdog Backs California DMV’s Draft Robot Car Regulations Requiring A Driver Behind The Wheel

SACRAMENTO, CA – Consumer Watchdog today strongly endorsed the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ draft regulations for autonomous vehicles that require self-driving robot cars have a licensed driver behind the wheel capable of taking control, and a working steering wheel, gas pedal and brake.

“The need to require a licensed driver behind the wheel is obvious after a review of the results from seven companies that have been testing since September 2014: Robot cars are still not capable of dealing reliably with real-life situations,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.

Under the autonomous car testing regulations, the companies were required to file “disengagement reports” explaining when a human test driver had to take control. The reports show that the cars are not always capable of “seeing” pedestrians and cyclists, traffic lights, low-hanging branches, or the proximity of parked cars, suggesting too great a risk of serious accidents involving pedestrians and other cars. The cars also are not capable of reacting to reckless behavior quickly enough to avoid the consequences, the reports showed.

“The companies’ own evidence makes clear that a human driver able to take control of the vehicle is necessary to ensure the safety of both robot vehicles and other Californians on the road,” Simpson said at a DMV workshop on autonomous vehicle regulations.

Read Simpson’s prepared comments for the workshop here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/dmvtestimony012816.pdf

“Google, which logged 424,331 “self-driving” miles over the 15-month reporting period, said a human driver had to take over 341 times, an average of 22.7 times a month.  The robot car technology failed 272 times and ceded control to the human driver; the driver felt compelled to intervene and take control 69 times,” Simpson said.

Other testing companies, driving far fewer autonomous miles than Google, also reported substantial numbers of disengagements. Bosch had 625 disengagements with 934.4 miles driven. Nissan with 1,485 miles driven had 106. Mercedes-Benz reported 1,031 with 1,738 miles driven. Delphi reported 405 disengagements with 16,662 miles. Volkswagen with 10,416 miles reported 260.  Tesla claimed it had none, but did not say how many miles its drove.

Simpson’s comments prepared for the workshop continued:

“It’s important to understand that these “disengagements” were promoted by real situations that drivers routinely encounter on the road.  Among reasons cited by Bosch were failures to detect traffic lights and heavy pedestrian traffic.

“Google’s robot technology quit 13 times because it couldn’t handle the weather conditions.  Twenty-three times the driver took control because of reckless behavior by another driver, cyclist or pedestrian.  The report said the robot car technology disengaged for a ‘perception discrepancy’ 119 times. Google defines such a discrepancy as occurring when the car’s sensors don’t correctly perceive an object, for instance over-hanging branches.  The robot technology was disengaged 55 times for ‘an unwanted maneuver of the vehicle.’  An example would be coming too close to a parked car.  The human took over from Google’s robot car three times because of road construction.

View a pie chart showing a breakdown of the reason Google’s robot car technology failed: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/consumerwatchdogwhyselfdrivingcarsfail.pdf

“What the disengagement reports show is that there are many everyday routine traffic situations with which the self-driving robot cars simply can’t cope.  Just as the draft regulations require, it’s imperative that a human be behind the wheel capable of taking control when necessary. Self-driving vehicles simply aren’t ready to safely manage many routine traffic situations without human intervention.”

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Google’s 2015 Spending On Lobbying Tops $16 Million For Second Year, Leading 16 Tech And Communications Companies; Facebook, Amazon, Apple Post Records

SANTA MONICA, CA – Google’s federal lobbying expenses in 2015 topped $16 million for the second year in a row, according to records just filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and analyzed today by Consumer Watchdog.

Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, monitors the lobbying disclosure reports of 16 tech and communications companies. Facebook, Apple and Amazon each set corporate records for the amount they each spent.

Google’s closest rival for spending the most money to influence federal laws and regulations in the group of 16 companies was Comcast, which reported spending $15.63 million, the records show.

“These companies are spending millions to buy the outcomes they want,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Policymaking is now all about big bucks, not big ideas.”

Here is a link to the Clerk of the House’s Lobbying Disclosure database: http://disclosures.house.gov/ld/ldsearch.aspx

Google spent $16.66 million on lobbying in 2015 compared with $16.83 million in 2014, a 1 percent decrease. Google’s fourth quarter lobbying expenditure was $3.29 million a 10 percent decrease from $3.78 million in 2014.  The lobbying disclosure reports are still being filed in Google’s name, not that of the newly created holding company, Alphabet.

Microsoft, Google’s archrival, which used to regularly outspend the Internet giant, spent roughly half of what Google spent. Microsoft reported spending $8.49 million, a 2 percent increase from $8.33 million spent on 2014 lobbying.  Fourth quarter lobbing expenses were $2.47 million compared to $2.25 million, a 9.1 percent increase from 2014.

Facebook, which has substantially increased its Washington presence over the last four years, posted another company record in its effort to influence policymakers.  Spending increased 5.5 percent to $9.85 million from $9.34 million in 2014.  Fourth quarter spending was $2.13 million compared to $1.99 million in 2014, an increase of 7 percent.

Amazon also posted a company record its disclosure forms show. Amazon’s reported lobbying expenditures soared 91.4 percent to $9.07 million compared to $4.74 million in 2014. Fourth quarter spending was $2.99 million vs. $1.67 million, an increase of 79 percent.

Apple, too, is increasing its Washington activities. It spent $4.48 million in 2015 compared to $4.11 million in 2014, a record and a 9 percent increase from 2014.  Fourth quarter spending was $1.03 million vs. $1.19 million, a 13.4 percent decrease.

Here are the 2015 lobbying amounts for five other tech firms:

— Cisco spent $2.69 million compared to $2.35 million in 2014, a 14.5 percent increase from 2014. Fourth quarter spending was $850,000 vs. $310,000, an increase of 174 percent.

— IBM spent $4.63 million, a 6.5 percent decrease from $4.95 million in 2014. Fourth quarter spending was  $960,000 vs. $1.15 million, a decrease of 16.5 percent.

— Intel spent $4.55 million in 2015, a 19.7 percent increase from $3.80 million in 2014. Fourth quarter spending was  $1.03 million vs. $980,000, an increase of 5.1 percent.

— Oracle spent  $4.46 million, a decrease of 23.5 percent from $5.83 million in 2014.  Fourth quarter spending was $1.98 million vs. $1.66 million, an increase of 19.2 percent.

— Yahoo spent $2.84 million in 2015, a decrease of 3.4 percent from $2.94 million in 2014. Fourth quarter spending was $690,000 vs. $740,000, a decrease of 6.8 percent.

Three of four telecommunications companies increased their spending on lobbying, while one decreased expenditures in 2014:

— AT&T spent $14.86 million, a 2.1 percent increase from $14.56 million in 2014. Fourth quarter spending was $3.49 million vs. $3.06 million, an increase of 14.1 percent.

— Sprint spent  $2.83 million, a 5.4 percent decrease from $2.99 million in 2014. Fourth quarter spending was $635,313 vs. 772,658, a decrease of 17.8 percent.

–T-Mobile spent $6.14 million, an increase of 1.7 percent from $6.04 million in 2014. Fourth quarter spending was $1.97 million vs. $1.30 million, an increase of 51.5 percent.

— Verizon spent $11.43 million, an increase of 1.9 percent from $11.22 million in 2014.  Fourth quarter spending was $2.52 million vs. $2.97 million, a decrease of 15.2 percent.

Here are 2015 lobbying expenditures for two cable companies:

— Comcast spent  $15.63 million in 2015, a 7 percent decrease from $16.8 million in 2014.  Fourth quarter spending was $3.94 million vs. $5.03 million, a 21.7 percent decrease.

— Time Warner Cable spent $6.8 million in 2015, a 13.2 percent decrease from $7.83 million in 2014.  Fourth quarter spending was $1.85 million vs. $2.2 million, a decrease of 15.9 percent.

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Google’s Own Robot Car “Disengagement” Report Shows Need For Driver Behind Wheel, Consumer Watchdog Says; Group Calls for Release of Videos Of Incidents

SANTA MONICA, CA – Google’s just released report detailing when human drivers took control of a self-driving robot car being tested underscores the need – as required by California DMV draft regulations – for a driver behind a steering wheel of a self-driving car, Consumer Watchdog said today.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group also called on Google to release any videos of the incidents, as well as technical data gathered immediately preceding the disengagements.

“The DMV got it exactly right and is putting our safety first,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.  “How can Google propose a car with no steering wheel, brakes or driver when its own tests show that over 15 months the robot technology failed and handed control to the driver 272 times and a test driver felt compelled to intervene 69 times?”

Currently California has regulations covering testing robot cars on the state’s highways, which require a driver behind a steering wheel capable of taking control.  The test rules also require companies testing self-driving cars to file disengagement reports with the department.
Read Google’s disengagement report here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/cadmvdisengagereport-dec.2015.pdf

“Release of the disengagement report was a positive step, but Google should also make public any video it has of the disengagement incidents, as well as any technical data it collected so we can fully understand what went wrong as it uses our public roads as its private laboratory,” Simpson said

Seven companies that were approved for testing self-driving cars in 2014 were required to file disengagement reports with the DMV by Jan. 1.  The seven are Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi, Tesla, Bosch and Nissan. A DMV spokeswoman said the department expects to post the disengagement reports on its website.

Last month the DMV issued draft regulations for the general use of robot cars on the state’s roads that will – like the testing regulations – require a driver behind the wheel capable of taking control.

Google, which is testing 53 robot cars in California and Texas, said it was “gravely disappointed” and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the “draft regulations may prove too onerous, create road blocks to innovation, and may ultimately drive the development of this promising industry to other states.”

“It’s imperative the DMV continue to put public safety first, and not cave to corporate and political pressure,” said Simpson. The department will hold public workshops to discuss the draft rules on Jan. 28 in Sacramento and on Feb. 2 in Los Angeles.

Eleven companies  – Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi Automotive, Tesla Motors, Bosch, Nissan, Cruise Automation, BMW, Honda and Ford – are now approved to test robot cars on California roads.

View the California DMV’s autonomous vehicle page here: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/auto

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Don’t Be Fooled By Robot Car Hype At CES Gadget Show, Consumer Watchdog Warns

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumers and regulators should not be fooled by the autonomous vehicle hype coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Consumer Watchdog warned today.

“Robot car advocates are putting a glitzy spin on their ‘autonomous’ technologies,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.  “The fact is that while some emerging technologies may promote safety, self-driving robot cars are not remotely ready for deployment on public highways without a steering wheel and pedals so a human driver can intervene when necessary.”

Regulators appear to be emphasizing safety as they develop regulations and policies covering autonomous vehicles, Consumer Watchdog said. The nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group urged them to continue a deliberate approach that emphasizes safety and not yield to corporate pressure.

Currently California has regulations covering testing robot cars on the state’s highways, which require a driver behind a steering wheel capable of taking control.  Last month the DMV issued draft regulations for the general use of robot cars on the state’s roads that will also require a driver behind the wheel capable of taking control.

Google, which is testing 53 robot cars in California and Texas, said it was “gravely disappointed” and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the “draft regulations may prove too onerous, create road blocks to innovation, and may ultimately drive the development of this promising industry to other states.”

“It’s imperative the DMV continue to put public safety first, and not cave to corporate and political pressure,” said Simpson. The department will hold public workshops to discuss the draft rules on Jan. 28 in Sacramento and on Feb. 2 in Los Angeles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also pledging to emphasize safety as it updates its two-and-a-half year old policy paper on automated vehicles. Secretary Anthony Foxx called for the update last month prompting Consumer Watchdog to warn NHTSA,  “Do not put the interests of the robot car developers ahead of the public’s safety in the face of ongoing pressure from self-driving robot car manufacturers like Google, which has promised a vehicle without a steering wheel or brake pedal.”

“Your cautionary remarks are well taken,” responded Nathaniel Beuse, NHTSA Associate Administrator for Vehicle Safety Research in a letter. “Safety is and will be NHTSA’s top-priority.”

Eleven companies  – Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi Automotive, Tesla Motors, Bosch, Nissan, Cruise Automation, BMW, Honda and Ford – are approved to test robot cars on California roads.

View the California DMV’s autonomous vehicle page here: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/auto

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to NHTSA here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrnhtsa120315.pdf

Read the letter from NHTSA’s Nathaniel Beuse here:  http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/nhtsaltr121815.pdf

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New DMV Robot Car Rules Prioritize Safety; Follow Consumer Watchdog’s Call To Require Steering Wheel And Pedals; Privacy & Cybersecurity Also Addressed

SANTA MONICA, CA – Draft regulations covering self-driving robot cars issued today by the California Department of Motor Vehicles incorporate a key safety provision advocated by Consumer Watchdog and require the robot cars to have a steering wheel and pedals and be occupied by a licensed driver capable of taking control of the vehicle.

The draft regulations also require a third-party testing organization to conduct a vehicle test to provide an independent performance verification of the vehicle. That is in addition to the manufacturer being required to certify the robot car meets safety and performance standards.

“Google may be in overdrive in its rush to develop robot cars, but the DMV has admirably served as traffic cop and proposed reasonable limits to protect public safety,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project director.

Read the DMV’s draft regulations here: http://dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/auto

The draft regulations also include important privacy and cybersecurity protections. Manufacturers must disclose to the operator if information is collected, other than the information needed to safely operate the vehicle. Manufacturers will be required to obtain approval to collect this additional information, the DMV said. Autonomous vehicles will be equipped with self-diagnostic capabilities that detect and respond to cyber-attacks or other unauthorized intrusions, alert the operator, and allow for an operator override.

“The privacy regulations are essential,” said Simpson. “Robot car technology should be about getting you from point A to B, not about collecting data on everything you did along the way for the company to use however it wants.”

The DMV draft rules also limit deployment of an approved robot car to three years and will require manufacturers to report monthly on the performance, safety, and usage of autonomous vehicles.

The DMV plans to hold two public workshops next year to discuss the draft regulations on Jan. 28 in Sacramento and on Feb. 2 in Los Angeles. After the workshops DMV will propose formal regulations.  With public hearings and the required approval process, the regulations probably won’t take affect for at least a year.

Currently the DMV has regulations in effect that cover testing robot cars. Eleven companies have been approved to test robot cars on California’s highways. They are Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi Automotive, Tesla Motors, Bosch, Nissan, Cruise Automation, BMW, Honda and Ford.  Ford just announced it would begin testing a self-driving car in California starting in January.

Under the rules companies must file reports of any crashes involving the self-driving cars.  Read the robot car crash reports filed since September with the DMV here:
https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/autonomousveh_ol316

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Don’t Rush Robot Car Rules, Consumer Watchdog Tells Transportation Secretary Foxx

Put Focus On Enforceable Standards For Automated Technologies That Improve Safety

SANTA MONICA, CA – Self-driving robot cars are not ready for public use and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) must not rush to implement regulations covering the vehicles as it updates its policy on automated vehicle technologies, Consumer Watchdog said today.

In a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director John M. Simpson also called for formal rulemakings to set enforceable standards for automated technologies that enhance safety.

“Automated technologies – some of which are already being deployed such as automatic emergency braking – can clearly improve auto safety,” wrote Simpson. “Consumer Watchdog is concerned that success with such automated features could prompt NHTSA to prematurely recommend approval of the general public use of fully autonomous self-driving robot cars.”

Last week Foxx ordered NHTSA to update its more than two-year-old “Preliminary Statement of Policy Concerning Automated Vehicles.”  Updating the policy makes sense, Consumer Watchdog said, but is imperative that any updates continue to put safety ahead of all other considerations.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrnhtsa120315.pdf

NHTSA’s current policy on self-driving robot cars urges the states allow them only to be used on public roads for testing purposes. Moreover, the policy says, “NHTSA strongly recommends that states require that a properly licensed driver be seated in the driver’s seat and ready to take control of the vehicle while the vehicle is operating in self-driving mode on public roads.”

Consumer Watchdog’s letter stressed the importance of maintaining those key safety recommendations for self-driving robot cars as the policy is updated:

“As you know, most of the testing of robot cars on public highways has taken place in California under regulations promulgated by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The California rules reflect NHTSA’s recommendations and allow only testing of robot cars and then only with a licensed and trained driver behind the steering wheel capable of taking control as necessary.

“We have closely monitored self-driving robot car testing in our state and there is nothing yet to suggest that the vehicles are ready for safe operation by the general public.  Nor is there adequate information to suggest that test vehicles should be allowed to operate on public roads without a driver capable of taking control from the autonomous technology when needed…

“Do not put the interests of the robot car developers ahead of the public’s safety in the face of ongoing pressure from self-driving robot car manufacturers like Google, which has promised a vehicle without a steering wheel or brake pedal.”

Consumer Watchdog’s letter also urged NHTSA to hold a public workshop to get input from various stakeholders as the agency updates its “Preliminary Statement of Policy Concerning Automated Vehicles.” The letter concluded:

“While regulations for the public use of self-driving robot cars are premature, there are automated technologies that improve safety such as automatic emergency braking and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication.  NHTSA should open formal rulemakings to set enforceable standards as such automated technologies are shown to be safety enhancing and are implemented.

“Innovation can thrive hand-in-hand with thoughtful regulation.  Your 2013 ‘Preliminary Statement Concerning Automated Vehicles’ is an example of just that approach and we are seeing the positive results as automated technology continues to develop. Google may want to put the pedal to the metal as it rushes robot cars out the door, but a thoughtful, deliberate approach to regulations is required. Consumer Watchdog calls on NHTSA to continue to put safety first as you update your automated vehicle policy.”

Read NHTSA’s “Preliminary Statement of Policy Concerning Automated Vehicles” here: http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/rulemaking/pdf/Automated_Vehicles_Policy.pdf

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Consumer Watchdog Urges California DMV To Ignore Google’s Pressure, Continue Deliberate Pace To Act In Public Interest On Writing Robot Car Regulations

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on the California Department of Motor Vehicles to rebuff pressure from Google and continue at a deliberate pace to ensure regulations covering robot cars protect public safety.

“Google may have its foot on the accelerator pedal in its mad drive to develop robot cars, but the DMV has admirably served as traffic cop and set reasonable limits that have genuinely protected public safety,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project director, in a letter to the DMV.  “We call on you to stay on this responsible course and put public safety first.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrdmv111915.pdf

Consumer Watchdog’s letter came after an AP report that said Google is frustrated with the DMV’s pace at crafting regulations covering the public use of robot cars (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SELF_DRIVING_CARS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT). Regulations are already in place covering the ten companies currently testing robot cars on California’s public roads.

“We commend the DMV for its thoughtful and thorough approach, and urge that you continue to act in the public’s interest, rather than succumbing to corporate pressure. It is imperative that the DMV reject the Internet giant’s self-serving lobbying,” the letter said. “Quite correctly your department is acting at a deliberate pace to ensure that autonomous vehicle regulations for public use adequately protect our safety. The important thing is getting the regulations right, not rushing them out the door.”

The testing rules have important safeguards, but should still be improved, Consumer Watchdog said:  “As you know, Consumer Watchdog has petitioned the department to amend the testing rules to require that police investigate any robot car crash. We also ask that the rules require copies of any technical data and video associated with a robot car crash be turned over to the department. We look forward to a positive response to our petition.”

In developing the public use regulations Consumer Watchdog said it is important to remember that the current testing regulations require that companies file “disengagement reports” covering all times and circumstances when a human driver had to take control of a vehicle being tested.  The public interest group said those reports covering the period from September 2014 through Nov. 30 are due on Jan. 1 and should be made public.

“The disengagement reports will undoubtedly help guide the drafting of the regulations for the public use of robot cars,” Consumer Watchdog’s letter said. “Just as is required in the testing regulations, the public rules should require a steering wheel and brake pedal and a human driver capable of taking over when necessary.”

Another factor that must be considered in developing the rules is the way the robot cars interact with human drivers.  Increasingly, including the Google crash report posted on the DMV website this week, (https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/a35d0b74-02dc-4725-9a5f-cc4ac71e421b/Google+Auto+LLC+11.02.15.pdf?MOD=AJPERES) there is mounting evidence that the robot cars don’t behave the way humans expect.

Consumer Watchdog’s letter outlined what it called a clear and deliberate way forward to develop appropriate regulations covering the public use of robot cars that truly protect our safety:

“When the DMV believes it is ready, it will be appropriate for the department to release tentative draft regulations that can be studied by all stakeholders. The draft regulations should then be the subject of scrutiny and discussion at a public workshop where all interested parties can participate.  Based on input from that public workshop and the disengagement reports, the DMV should then be in a position to write and issue proposed regulations covering public use of autonomous vehicles.  Once those proposed regulations are released to the public, the formal approval process would begin with a public hearing 45 days later.  When finally adopted, the new rules would presumably take effect 180 days later.”

The ten companies testing robot cars on public highways are Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi Automotive, Tesla Motors, Bosch, Nissan, Cruise Automation, BMW and Honda.  Read the robot car crash reports filed with the DMV here:
https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/autonomousveh_ol316

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Consumer Watchdog Vows To Press Case For Online Privacy At Google and Facebook After FCC Rejects Petition For Rules Covering Largest Online Companies

SANTA MONICA, CA – In the wake of the Federation Communication Commission’s denial of its petition seeking online privacy protections at online companies like Google and Facebook, Consumer Watchdog today vowed to press state regulators, Congress and the courts to better protect Internet users’ privacy.

The FCC’s order noted that the Commission plans a rulemaking creating Section 222 privacy rules to cover broadband Internet access providers but said it was not “regulating the Internet, per se, or any Internet applications or content.”   Consumer Watchdog said the denial of the petition could be a message to a federal court taking up the case of the FCC’s rulemaking power next month that it intends to narrowly make rules, but it leaves consumers unprotected at the biggest online platforms.

“We believe the FCC has the authority to enforce Internet privacy protections far more broadly than they have opted to do and are obviously disappointed by this decision,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.

The new Section 222 rules once enacted will apply to companies like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and other ISPs.  Ironically much of the personal data gathered by those companies, which will be regulated, is the same information gathered by companies like Google, and Facebook, whose privacy invasive practices won’t be covered.

“Consumers’ data will be protected in one place, but it will be a Wild West, anything goes atmosphere when it comes to giant Internet companies,” said Simpson. “Requiring that Do Not Track requests be honored is a simple way to give people necessary control of their information and is in no way an attempt to regulate the content of the Internet.”

Consumer Watchdog’s petition cited FCC authority under another section of the law to take immediate action to protect consumer privacy if it finds broadband is not being deployed in a timely fashion.

Because the FCC has found that concerns about Internet privacy can hinder broadband deployment, rules to protect privacy, such as requiring companies to honor Do Not Track requests, are necessary to promote improved broadband use, the nonpartisan, nonprofit group said.

Consumer Watchdog expects to take an active role in the FCC rulemaking that will create Section 222 privacy rules covering the broadband Internet access providers.

Read the FCC’s order here: https://www.fcc.gov/document/bureau-dismisses-petition-regulate-edge-provider-privacy-practices

“The Commission’s 2015 Open Internet Order reclassified broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, emphasizing the importance of protecting consumer privacy by finding ‘that if consumers have concerns about the privacy of their personal information, such concerns may restrain them from making full use of broadband Internet access services and the Internet, thereby lowering the likelihood of broadband adoption and decreasing consumer demand,”  the petition said.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s petition here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/fccdntpetiton061515.pdf

“Acting to ensure consumers’ privacy while they use the Internet is one of the immediate steps the Commission should take to bolster the rate of broadband adoption,” the petition said. “As the Commission has found previously, the protection of customers’ personal information may spur consumer demand for those services, in turn ‘driving demand for broadband connections, and consequently encouraging more broadband investment and deployment’ consistent with the goals of the 1996 Act.”

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Google Trims 3rd Quarter Lobbying To $3.65 Million But Still Leads 16 Tech Firms; Oracle, Amazon Outlays Soar As Facebook Posts 3rd Quarter Record $2.59 Million

SANTA MONICA, CA – Google trimmed its 2015 third-quarter federal lobbying spending 7 percent to $3.65 million from $3.94 million in the comparable 2014 period, but still led lobbying expenditures among 16 technology and communications companies tracked by Consumer Watchdog.

Lobbying disclosure reports filed Tuesday with the Clerk of the House of Representatives showed that in addition to Google eight other companies tracked by the nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group trimmed their spending.

Oracle, however, doubled down, increasing its lobbying expenditures 101 percent to a record $2.48 million in the third quarter of 2015, up from $1.20 million in 2014, the disclosure records showed.

Amazon posted a substantial gain as well, increasing its lobbying spending 71 percent to $2.02 million in the third quarter of 2015. It had spent $1.18 million on lobbying in the third quarter of 2014.

“Even with cutbacks by some firms the lobbying figures once again demonstrate how our democracy has been hijacked by corporate interests,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “Washington is all about the money.”

Facebook spent $2.59 million in the third quarter of 2015, an increase of 6 percent compared to $2.45 million in 2014.  It was a record for Facebook’s third-quarter spending, but below the social network’s all-time high of $2.78 million in the first quarter of 2014.

Microsoft, which used to lead the tech lobbying expenditures, spent $1.89 million in 2015. It was an increase of 14 percent compared $1.66 million in the third quarter of 2014.

Here are the 2015 third-quarter lobbying amounts for the five other tech firms:
— Apple spent $980,000, a 3 percent decrease from $1.01 million in 2014.
— Cisco Systems spent $710,000, a 3 percent decrease from $730,00 in 2014.
— IBM spent $860,000, a 1 percent increase from $850,000 in 2014.
— Intel spent $1.06 million, a 31 percent increase from $810,000 in 2014.
— Yahoo spent $690,000, a 5 percent decrease from $730,000 in 2014.

Here are 2015 third-quarter lobbying expenditures for four telecommunications companies:
— AT&T spent $2.90 million, a 16 percent decrease from $3.47 million in 2014.
— Sprint spent $713,843, a 1 percent increase from $706,343 in 2014.
— T-Mobile spent $1.37 million, a 28 percent decrease from $1.91 million in 2014.
— Verizon spent $2.48 million, a 15 percent decrease from $2.91 million in 2014.

Here are 2015 third-quarter lobbying expenditures for two cable companies:
— Comcast spent $3.27 million, a 23 percent decrease from $4.23 million in 2014.
— Time Warner Cable spent $1.65 million, an 8 percent decrease from $1.80 million, in 2014.

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Visit our website at www.ConsumerWatchdog.org

Consumer Watchdog Tells DMV Police Must Investigate Robot Car Crashes

Crash Data And Video Should Be Provided To Department For Release To Public, Group Says

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on the California Department of Motor Vehicles to amend its Autonomous Vehicle Regulation to require that police investigate any crashes of robot cars being tested on public roads.

In addition the DMV should require that any data and video gathered by a robot car just before and during a crash should be provided to the department, the nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group said. The video and data – with personally identifying information redacted – should be released to the public.

“The robot car accident reports are prepared and filed by the company doing the testing. Inevitably the companies will present their version of what happened in any crash in the best possible light,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “Relying solely on the word of the testing company is not adequate to protect the legitimate public interest in ensuring robot cars are tested safely.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to Jean Shiomoto, director of the Department of Motor Vehicles here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrdmvshiomoto082015.pdf

Consumer Watchdog said police should interview drivers and witnesses and file an independent report about any incident.  Since Google began testing its robot cars six years ago, its vehicles have been involved in 15 accidents.  Delphi has been in one one crash.

Consumer Watchdog noted that the Autonomous Vehicle Regulations also require the companies testing robot cars to file reports about every instance when a human driver had to take control of the car.  The first such “disengagement” reports are due Jan. 1, 2016.  Consumer Watchdog said those reports must be released to the public.

“Google’s cars have been involved in the most crashes – 15 – perhaps because they have the most vehicles on public roads. Under the current reporting system the DMV – and the public – must rely entirely on the Internet giant’s version of what happened,” Simpson wrote. “There is no independent third-party verification.  ‘Trust us, we’re Google’ simply isn’t good enough when our public highways become the company’s laboratory.”

As of Aug. 14 there were nine companies with 78 robot cars and 311 drivers approved for testing on California roads, according to the DMV. They are: Volkswagen with three cars and 30 drivers, Mercedes Benz with five cars and 13 drivers, Google with 48 cars (including 25 prototype cars) and 191 drivers, Delphi with two cars and nine drivers, Tesla with 12 cars and16 drivers, Bosch LLC  with two cars and 20 drivers, Nissan with three cars and 20 drivers, Cruise Automation with two cars and 11 drivers, and BMW with one car and one driver.

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Google’s New Corporate Structure Changes Nothing About Company’s Impact On Consumers’ Privacy; It’s Still The Internet Giant, Consumer Watchdog Says

SANTA MONICA, CA – Google’s announcement today that it is creating a new holding company called “Alphabet” changes nothing about the company’s impact and challenges it poses for consumers, the nonprofit public interest group Consumer Watchdog said.

“A rose by any other name is still a rose and Google by any other name is still the Internet giant,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.

“Alphabet through what will now be called its subsidiary will continue to track us around the web and build digital dossiers about us.  It makes little difference to Google’s users.”

Consumer Watchdog said the move was undoubtedly prompted by criticism from investors that Google focused too much attention on speculative research projects that CEO Larry Page calls “moonshots.”

“This structure allows Page and co-founder Sergey Brin to keep investors happy and continue to have their toys like Google Glass and robot cars,” said Simpson. “We don’t know where in the new corporate structure the robot car project will end up, but you can be sure Alphabet will push the vehicles at us before the cars are ready.”

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Consumer Watchdog Backs Consumer Privacy Protection Act Introduced By Rep. Cicilline

SANTA MONICA, CA. – Consumer Watchdog strongly supports the Consumer Privacy Protection Act introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-RI, and co-sponsored by eleven other Democrats.

“This is a strong bill that provides important protections for consumers’ data,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “Importantly it sets a strong federal baseline and pre-empts only weaker state laws. It leaves stronger state laws in place.”

The House measure is a companion bill to one introduced in the Senate by Sen. Patrick Leahy, VT, and five other Democratic Senators. Consumer Watchdog noted that 47 states already have breach notification laws, adding that it is essential that federal legislation not undermine those protections.

Key provisions in the Consumer Privacy Protection Act of 2015 include:

— Requiring companies who store sensitive personal or financial information on 10,000 customers or more to meet consumer privacy and data security standards to keep this information safe, and notify the customer within 30 days of a breach.

— Establishing a broad definition of information that must be protected, including social security numbers; financial account information; online usernames and passwords; unique biometric data, including fingerprints; information about a person’s physical and mental health; information about a person’s geo-location; and access to private digital photographs and videos.

— Requiring companies to inform federal law enforcement of all large breaches, as well as breaches that involved federal government databases or law enforcement or national security personnel.

— Guaranteeing a federal baseline of strong consumer privacy protections for all Americans by preempting weaker state laws, while leaving stronger state laws in place.

Other representatives co-sponsoring Cicilline’s House bill are: John Conyers, MI: Judy Chu, CA; Sheila Jackson Lee, TX; Hank Johnson, GA; Michael Capuano, MA; Mark Takano, CA; John Garamendi, CA; Alan Grayson, FL; Andre Carson, IN; Mark DeSaulnier, CA; and Jerrold Nadler, NY.

In addition to Leahy the Senate bill is cosponsored by Democratic Senators Al Franken, MN; Elizabeth Warren, MA; Richard Blumenthal, CT; Ron Wyden, OR; and Edward J. Markey, MA.

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