The Chinese are used to surveillance. Protecting privacy isn’t that important to them.
The small, gray box packs a punch. A pulsing red light indicates that a connection has been established. The device, installed in a taxi in the Chinese capital of Beijing, is an on-board computer that documents the car’s every movement, and the data is shared with both the company that operates the device and
The system being tested in taxis but could soon apply through the entire country. Beijing is developing new rules that would make the permanent monitoring of electric cars in China the standard. Employees at the Ministry of Industry are currently designing a nationwide system, which will give the government sweeping access to the data from all electric cars.
This puts German automakers in a difficult position, because they have made data security a trademark feature of their vehicles. The manufacturers are expected to supply the data. An on-board computer will constantly transmit the location of the vehicles to the government. According to a ministry draft seen by Handelsblatt, the location data will be accurate to a distance of 15 meters (49 feet) from the vehicle. The information will be transmitted between the car and the national data platform once every second. This would enable analysts to not only scrutinize anonymous data, but also a wealth of information about individual car owners.
The 35-page document specifies which sensors will capture which information, as well as the format that will be used to transmit the data.
The companies have had little to say officially. Daimler, BMW and Audi are unwilling to comment on the plans, saying that the plans are merely in the concept phase at this point. But the truth is that the industry is alarmed. The promise to drivers that they can move around without being observed by the government and the advertising industry is a central brand message of German automakers.
“The safety of both the vehicle and our customers’ personal data is a top priority,” said BMW Chief Executive Officer Harald Krüger.
“We must have control over data privacy,” Daimler head Dieter Zetsche said recently at the Paris Auto Show.
“The announcement is in keeping with the overall strategy. The government wants to collect as much data as possible on its citizens,” said Jost Wübbeke, program director for business and technology at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin. Collecting data from electric cars is only the beginning, he added. “The system could also be expanded to other vehicles and other parts of the economy.”