New wireless technology gives auto manufacturers a frightening degree of control over vehicles and their owners. One example: The French automaker Renault can actually turn off its Zoe electric car by remote control if purchasers stop making payments, European media is reporting.
It has significant consequences, opponents of the technology say.
“If there is a mechanism to remotely control what your car does, some will make use of this mechanism at some point,” Karsten Gerloff, the president of the Free Foundation Europe  told Britain’s Daily Mirror. “This could be the manufacturer, shutting down your car as you fall behind on the battery rent because you just lost your job, meaning it becomes harder for you to find work. It could be the government compelling the manufacturer to do its bidding.”
The mechanism Gerloff was talking about is keyed to the Zoe’s battery. Zoe buyers have to rent a special battery from Renault, and if they don’t make monthly payments Renault has the ability to shut the battery down. If that wasn’t bad enough, the electronics in the Zoe apparently send data about the driver’s movements back to Renault, reports say.
“This data tells the company where you are going, when, and how fast, where you charge the battery and many other things,” Gerloff said.
Car leasing contract gives corporation control over your life
Civil rights advocates in Europe are concerned that the rental contract and the digital rights management contract on the Zoe give Renault control over buyers’ lives. The effects these contracts could be pretty frightening, according to DeepLinks Blogger Parker Higgins .
Some of the provisions of the contract include:
- Renault has installed software in the Zoe that enables it to prevent the battery from charging.
- Renault has the right to activate this feature if the buyer doesn’t make payments on the battery.
- It could be illegal for the buyer to try and circumvent the software. A federal law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal for Americans to try and circumvent digital rights management contracts.
It is obvious that this technology could give a car manufacturer a great deal of control over a person’s life. Worse, the information collected by the car and transmitted to the manufacturer could be used by the government to track citizens.
Another potential problem is, of course, hacking.
Google wants to do the driving for you
The Renault Zoe is only the tip of the iceberg in smart car technology. Google’s self-driving car is being developed in conjunction with Toyota.
“Our car is driving more smoothly and safely than our trained professional drivers,” the head of the driverless car project, Chris Urmson,  said at a recent conference. Urmson was talking about the latest tests of the driverless cars in California and Nevada. Urmson said his vehicles were outperforming human drivers.
The Google cars have the ability to collect a vast amount of data . Google was able to gather enough data from one of its vehicles to prove it wasn’t at fault in an accident, Ursmon revealed.
“We don’t have to rely on eyewitnesses that can’t be trusted as to what happened – we actually have the data,” Urmson said.
Urmson admitted that he is in close contact with automakers and that Google is looking for ways to commercialize its self-driving car technology . The search engine giant would most likely license the technology to automakers.
The day when your car could no longer be under your control could be fast approaching.