News and Reviews

VW Strives To Protect Driver Privacy In The Digital Age

November, 2014

As digitally savvy consumers with busy, synced-up lives, we can often carry certain technological expectations when it comes to purchasing new cars. For the most part these technologies are non-invasive, functional and on occasion quite novel. But as digital tech specs continue to evolve at such a rapid pace, are we at risk of losing our privacy?

According to Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, we could be. At the end of October this year, Winterkorn spoke at an industry conference in Munich announcing on behalf of the company that, “We seek connection to Google’s data systems but we still want to be the masters of our own cars.”

The discussion at hand was regarding VW and Daimler’s call for other automotive manufacturers to step forward and provide branded data storage solutions to their drivers. “Potential conflict arises around making data available,” he continued.

The conservative car buyer who travels without all the bells and whistles might be asking if this is all just a bit of PR hoo-haa, but take into account big news stories of late such as Wikileaks, the NSA scandal, new government surveillance legislation, even leaked celebrity nudes, and it’s understandable why digital privacy should be raised everywhere, now including behind the steering wheel. Factor in the increased convergence between car, tech and driver and you’ll begin to sympathise with Winterkorn’s point.

Whilst it’s unlikely that your Bluetooth connection, iPod or USB input data will be used for any devilish schemes by some tech giant headquarted out in the desert, it’s a matter of future-proofing your driving data as cars become more connected. And in some cases the data-rich future is already here.

Ironically, VW’s own Smile Drive App presents an exemplar case of the potential risks surrounding driver connectivity. The app claims to be “the first social app to maximise fun on every drive” by pairing your device with your vehicle via Bluetooth and then allowing you to add friends, log road trips and upload photos whilst the app keeps track of distance, time, weather and where you drive. This is all incorporated into a free mobile app that anyone can download – but here’s the catch – to use it you have to sign in using your Google account.

Essentially, that means that personal data including a user’s name, emails, vehicle, schedule, home and location are potentially floating around in the ether having been collected from your car trip and Google profile.

But don’t fret just yet.

Although VW’s call for more secure data might seem a bit hypocritical in the shadow of its previous collaboration with Google on Smile Drive, it’s a step in the right direction. What we can’t deny is that automotive technology will continue to converge with our digital lives – a trend that we are set to benefit from tremendously – however, the responsibility to protect our sensitive information lies in the hands of brands that offer such integration. Going on record in support of safe data storage means that VW is committed to protecting driver digital privacy in the future.

And then there’s Google’s own self-driving car. Which is a whole other story.

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