As fleets of self-driving vehicles are undergoing tests in several cities around the US, many drivers who encounter these vehicles on the road are starting to wonder: what information, if any, is this sensor-covered vehicle collecting about me?
“We know that many autonomous vehicles have cameras that look specifically at license plates, so the more you encounter these vehicles, the more likely they are able to predict where you are at any given moment,” says Cara Bloom, a CyLab staff researcher. “This has both security and privacy ramifications.”
In a recent study, Bloom and a team of researchers surveyed over 300 residents in cities with and without Uber autonomous vehicle fleets, exploring their perceptions of the sensing capabilities of autonomous vehicles and how they felt about it.
“People were much more uncomfortable with privacy invasion than they were with safety or economic reliability,” says Bloom. “We found that really surprising.”
In line with these survey results, just over half (54 percent) of study participants said that they would spend more than five minutes using an online system to opt out of identifiable data collection. Additionally, participants were much more comfortable with technologies they saw as necessary for autonomous driving, but much more uncomfortable with secondary analysis of data such as recognition, identification, and tracking of people or vehicles.
The authors concluded that companies should implement self-regulation or be regulated to protect the public.
“Our findings suggest that such regulation should focus on secondary data uses, with which the public is overwhelmingly uncomfortable and would actively avoid if given the opportunity,” the authors state in the study.
I am very worried about the path we’re on right now where technologies are implemented without security and privacy by design.Cara Bloom, CyLab staff researcher, Carnegie Mellon University
The study says that these regulations should not solely focus on autonomous vehicles, but on all autonomous technologies that may track identifiable data.
“We’re going to have all of these new devices out there – not just autonomous vehicles but also drones and other IoT devices – collecting data in our most private places,” Bloom says. “If we can get ahead of this on the data privacy side, it would benefit everyone.”
Bloom reassures her stance on autonomous vehicles is a positive.
“I’m pro-autonomous vehicles. I think they are way safer and way more practical,” she says. “But I am very worried about the path we’re on right now where technologies are implemented without security and privacy by design.”
Other authors on the study included Institute for Software Research (ISR) Ph.D. student Joshua Tan, ISR Master’s student Javed Ramjohn and ISR and Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Lujo Bauer.