You are here: Home » PTI Stories » National » News
Business Standard

In China, your car could be talking to the government

AP  |  Shanghai 

Global automakers are feeding and dozens of other data points from electric vehicles to monitoring centers, potentially adding to China's rich kit of tools as steps up the use of technology to track Chinese citizens.

Generally, it happens without car owners' knowledge, found.

More than 200 automakers selling electric vehicles in including Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, and U.S.-listed start-up NIO send at least 61 data points to government-backed monitoring platforms, under rules published in 2016.

Automakers say they are merely complying with local laws, which apply only to alternative Chinese officials say the data is used for analytics to improve public safety, facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning, and to prevent fraud in subsidy programmes.

But critics say the information collected exceeds those goals and could be used to undermine foreign carmakers' competitive position, or for Under Xi's leadership, has unleashed a war on dissent, marshalling big data and to create a more perfect kind of policing that can quickly neutralize perceived threats to the stability of the ruling

There is also concern about the precedent these rules set for sharing data from next-generation connected cars, which may soon transmit even more personal information.

"You're a lot about people's day-to-day activities and that becomes part of what I call ubiquitous surveillance," said Michael Chertoff, who was of the Department of Homeland under and wrote a book called "Exploding Data."

"Companies have to ask themselves, 'Is this really something we want to do in terms of our corporate values, even if it means otherwise forgoing that market?'" At the Public Data Collecting, Monitoring and Research Center, a wall-sized screen glows with dots.

Each represents one of more than 222,000 vehicles connected to the system, coursing along Shanghai's roads to create a massive real-time map that could reveal where people live, shop, work, and worship.

Data also flows to a national monitoring center run by the Institute of Technology, which pulls information from more than 1.1 million new Those numbers are about to get much bigger, as pushes development as part of its "Made in 2025" industrial development plan.

Ding Xiaohua, the of the center, said monitoring is not designed to facilitate state surveillance, though data can be shared with police, prosecutors or courts, if a formal request is made. The center is registered as a non-profit but is tightly aligned with and funded by the government.

There is a built into the system. The data center has each car's unique vehicle identification number, but to link that with the owner's personal details, it must go through the automaker a step it has taken in the past. Chinese can also link the vehicle identification number with the owner's personal information.

"To speak bluntly, the government doesn't need to surveil through a platform like ours," Ding said.

Many vehicles in the US, and transmit position information back to automakers, who feed it to car-tracking apps, maps that pinpoint nearby amenities and emergency services providers.

But the data stops there. Government or agencies would generally only be able to access vehicle data in the context of a specific criminal investigation and in the U.S. would typically need a court order, lawyers said.

Automakers initially resisted sharing information with the monitoring center; then the government made transmitting data a prerequisite for getting incentives.

"They gave you dozens of reasons why they can't give you the data," said a who helped evaluate the policy and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues.

"Then we offer the incentives. Then they want to give us the data because it's part of their profit."

There was concern the shared data might reveal proprietary information about, for example, how hybrids switch between gas and battery power, and eventually set automakers up for commercial competition with a entity.

Ding said confidentiality agreements protect proprietary company information. Still, he is open about his desire to make money from the data. "We have done some explorations," he said.

"But there is still a distance from truly monetizing it." China's ability to grab data as it flows from cars gives it an edge. China tends to view as a key competitive resource.

Though global automakers have received billions in incentives and subsidies from US, European and Japanese governments, they are contributing data to China that ultimately serves Beijing's strategic interests.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, November 29 2018. 11:40 IST