To no surprise, China is surveilling connected car owners

In perhaps the least shocking revelation of the year, the Chinese government are using connected cars to keep tabs on citizens.

A report from the Associated Press found more than 200 automakers – including Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, and Mitsubishi – are providing live data to Chinese authorities.

The automakers claim it’s to comply with national laws. Chinese officials do not deny the data collection, but say it’s for analytical purposes to improve things such as public safety and infrastructure planning.

Critics say the data collection goes above and beyond what is necessary. Other major markets such as the US, Europe, and Japan do not collect data to such an extent.

A dedicated facility called the Shanghai Electric Vehicle Public Data Collecting, Monitoring and Research Center features a display full of dots moving along Shanghai’s streets in real-time. Each dot can be clicked for detailed information about the vehicle down to its remaining battery charge.

Such data could be used in conjunction with policing. To avoid lengthy and dangerous chases, for example, a police vehicle could engage a suspect’s car when it’s low on battery – although it’s not hard to foresee law enforcement being able to remotely disable connected cars.

In the Western world, this may all be a shock. In China, where internet censorship and things like facial recognition are just a part of daily life, it’s less so.

Still, it begs the question as to whether automakers will be tempted into selling clearly valuable user data to third-parties.

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