The Data Dilemma: Privacy versus usefulness

You’ve given up your privacy to receive a useful service. You’ve allowed Google, Facebook and the others to analyse what you’re interested in, where you go and who you know, to be able to advertise to you, to target you with messages and content. But you’ve clicked the button without reading the small print because you want the convenience, the contact, the service they provide.

Of course, opting out is an option. Only two billion of the world’s- seven billion people use Facebook. But it’s increasingly difficult to live in the modern world without joining in. One of the most hotly debated topics at Venturefest’s second Roundtable on Connected and Autonomous Vehicles was the real need to access CAV data for the good of the public and society.

Data from CAVs will be useful for improving user’s safety by providing information on traffic issues such as congestion, weather conditions, and approaching blue-light emergency services. Data from CAVs will most likely be useful in operating these types of vehicles more efficiently (e.g. optimising driving on well-known routes), and result in fewer breakdowns (e.g. monitoring vehicle performance). But, as we discussed at the first Roundtable earlier in the year, these seemingly good and public spirited threads, are always deeply entangled with commercial interests, and the reach and power of governments. 

Reflecting on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into law in May next year, “to give control back to citizens and residents over their personal data”, the argument at the second Roundtable was the increasing tension between your right to keep your data private, and the value of the data to companies, road operators, and governments.

As an example, the FLOURISH project in Bristol and South Gloucestershire is investigating (among other things) how to wirelessly capture useful data from CAVs, process and then display it in meaningful ways so traffic management decisions can be made. This research could help inform local authorities’ future transport plans. The consortia’s recent Legal and Insurance Report, led by partners Burges Salmon and AXA, recommended the UK Government examine “the implications of the GDPR for CAVs” especially “whether the standards of consent are appropriate”.

Access to some particular pieces of data from CAVs – such as location, status of steering and brakes, and crucially whether the vehicle was in automated driving mode – will certainly be needed to determine liability in collisions and insurance claims. Insurers are therefore asking the UK government to make this, ideally immediately and wirelessly to a centralised service, mandatory for updated vehicle classifications for CAVs. User consent would of course be part and parcel of obtaining insurance policies to cover operating a CAV in the UK.

Might the principle of access to data in return for service be extended more widely? CAV data could be very useful in traffic prediction and management – below are a few ways in which it could be used:

  • Perhaps vehicles, their owners or drivers should be required to provide selected data, in a secure and anonymised way, to road operators (eg local authorities) to use their highway network (similar in concept to paying a toll to use a bridge or road)?
  • Perhaps a city traffic controller might require access to some vehicle data to help management of congestion in return for using the certain roads or lanes?
  • In the case of an automated vehicle, could the road operator instruct the vehicle to take a certain route to ease congestion – so the user has no choice?

In the latter case of centrally controlled vehicles, the problem of transferring legal liability from the vehicle or driver to the operator makes this seem unlikely. But the need to provide some data to enjoy the benefits of at least some of CAV-enabled services we talked about inevitably conflicts with some hard-won and long-established public freedoms, and rights to use public highways, spaces, and resources.

As individuals, and as a society, we are prepared to give up some privacy and provide data, in return for useful services. No doubt the ‘CAV Data Dilemma’ will be resolved over time as more valuable services become available.  How do you think the challenges around data can be overcome?

Venturefest’s final CAV Roundtable this year on 14th September will debate: “Who will be the winners & losers in a future CAV world?”

With limited places, please contact us if you’d like to be part of the debate.

John McNicol of Nova Modus.

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2017-08-30T21:46:25+00:00 August 29th, 2017|

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