I have written before about needless complexity, but I read an article this week about a tangential subject that got me all fired up again. The article in question appears in the June 2018 Consumer Reports and it makes reference to the Tesla Model 3. No, it wasn’t the infamous “Model 3 Road Test Review,” which was published around the same time and became an internet lightning rod as it documented the Model 3’s failure to earn a CR “Recommended” rating. Instead, it was an entirely different article titled “Who Owns the Data Your Car Collects?”
In this article, one finds the following three paragraphs:
Just above eye level is one of the Model 3’s accommodations to old-fashioned safety technology, the rear-view mirror. And just above that mirror is something relatively new in the automotive world—a tiny camera aimed at the car’s occupants.
The Model 3 owner’s manual says that the camera is not currently operational but that it “might be used in potential future features which could be added to Model 3 with software releases.”
When asked by Consumer Reports about the camera, Tesla declined to detail its future plans but said owners would be notified before the camera is turned on. In the meantime, the manual directs owners to keep the camera’s lens “clean and free of obstructions.”
I understand that it is 2018 now and we exist in a futuristic technological wonderland. However, I’m going to be very clear about how I feel about this—you gotta be kidding me. Get that nonsense out of my face.
My perspective is somewhat different, perhaps, than that of the average American consumer. I work for the government in an information-gathering capacity. I read every day about how our information is shared and compromised and bought and sold for profit or advantage. For these and a thousand other good reasons, there is no Amazon Alexa, or Google Home, or Microsoft Kinect, or Wi-Fi-connected fridge or toaster or hair dryer in my house. I’m certainly not about to put any of those things in my car.
To be fair, Tesla is not the only manufacturer that is monitoring driver behavior. The 2018 Cadillac CT6 with “Super Cruise” has a driver-facing camera, and Subaru plans to offer a similar system in the 2019 Forester. Mercedes-Benz has been “observing driver behavior” in their E- and S-class models since model year 2009, ostensibly to pre-emptively warn drivers about their state of attentiveness, which the car constantly evaluates based on steering inputs. Vehicles with OnStar or other such telematic systems are constantly beaming information about the car’s activity to a third party. And famously, Wired magazine published an article in 2015 about two hackers who had found a vulnerability in Chrysler’s UConnect system (which is constantly cellularly connected to a central UConnect hub) that allowed them to remotely locate and reprogram some of the vehicle’s software, permitting remote control of many vehicle systems, including the brakes and transmission.
My car is a refuge. The only people that get in my car are my family and friends. I’m not about to invite some mega-corporation into my passenger seat so it can watch and listen to me sing along with the radio. Progressive Insurance’s “Snapshot” OBD-2 plug-in can go straight into the trash, preferably after I run over it. There’s only one gesture I’ll give BMW’s “Gesture Control” system. Porsche has a similar system touted for the Mission E, which additionally tracks where my eyeballs are looking, saving me from the proletarian tyranny of having to reach for switches or buttons with my hands – sorry, not interested.
My 1992 Porsche 968 recently came home from a long-overdue service. She got new tires, new front and rear shocks, new front control arms and bushings, a new coolant reservoir, a new battery, and new hardware to keep all those things in place. This car was built over two and a half decades ago, but she’s fuel-injected with variable valve timing and has no trouble carving up contemporary traffic. What she DOESN’T DO, however, is bug me about anything. Anything! Not about how fast I’m going, not about how far I am from that curb or bollard or bumper, not if my seatbelt’s fastened, not if my phone’s ringing, not if I’ve left her lights on, none of it. It’s such a welcome relief from the usual present-day deluge of incessant beeps and boops that I might drive nothing but Nineties cars from now on. Cars with all of the go, but none of the “monitoring.” It has been forecast that the “automotive data industry” will be worth $450-750 billion by 2030, but here I’ll quote Nineties legend Dr. Dre—you won’t get a crumb from me.