(QQ, Spring 2002) — Technology can be a servant of ours. We can also be its servant. OnStar on board Telematics promise us to provide emergency services, roadside assistance, stolen vehicle tracking, remote door unlock, accident assist, remote vehicle alert, route support, ride assist, and concierge services. It is constantly monitoring your location, and can observe your vehicle speed, as well as most of the operating parameters of your entire car. It utilizes cellular and GPS satellite technologies for its location and communications technology.
Is this a major invasion of our privacy? Do you really want someone or some organization to know your every movement? It certainly has privacy advocates worried. Couple this to the computers that track your every grocery purchase (under the guise of "Club" cards), as well as our cell phones and all of our telephone calls and internet use monitored by the NSA through project Echelon, and it all seems to be a prophecy of Big Brother fulfilled. You might be aware that after the 9/11 tragedy, many agencies of our government are cooperating in tying their computer systems together to increase security and tracking of individuals and their former private lives.
In prototypes of the new Audi A8, a fingerprint sensor is located on the center console right next to the I-Drive knob. This identifies the driver and sets all of the cars adjustable parameters to his/her liking. It is similar in effect to the smart card like identity used in the new BMW 745i. Telematics knows who the individual is driving this car. I suppose this is all quite innocuous. Is it really?
In Europe, the EC Verkehrs Minister in Brussels (Minister of Roads) wants to propose legislation that all new cars by 2010 will be equipped with a form of Telematics for European traffic control. The idea is to actually charge drivers road use fees automatically by where and when they use their cars. It is supposed to be an encouragement for folks to use mass transit by making it quite expensive to drive during rush hour. Some people see it as a form of indirect taxation, and Europeans are the most taxed folks anywhere on this planet. It is also a way to penalize drivers who exceed speed limits and other traffic laws without the need of peace officers witnessing the event.
European and now American drivers are getting used to the idea of Gatso cameras on highways and intersections issuing traffic citations by mail. Corporations may have a new tool in the future of following their employees on the road. I read an article in a recent issue of the Economist and the Electronic Engineering Times last week that the new Euro currency will have RFID chips (Radio Frequency Identification Devices) built in that would allow remote tracking and identification of cash currency (www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20011219S0016, and www.hitachi.com/products/electronic/semiconductorcomponent/elecrfid). It will be in place by 2005. Infineon of Germany, Texas Instruments, and Hitachi of Japan are some of the vendors supplying these parts. These same tiny 300 Micron devices will start showing up in clothing, consumer appliances, cereal boxes, and anywhere that bar codes are now used or desired. Isn't this going too far? Is technology pushing us instead of the other way? Is it so far fetched to think that Telematics will be able to read you, your clothing, your beverage in the car, and the cash in your pocket? All the technology is coming into place to make this possible. This is not paranoia.
Like new taxes, it is rare for politicians to ever roll back legislation or laws. In Europe, older cars are being legislated off the roads by means of new and strict pollution taxes on cars that do not comply with the latest norms. It seems to be only a short matter of time that we will see this here. Will most new cars be equipped with Telematics in the future? It seems so by all of the advanced and sophisticated electronics the new concept cars have on board. In the new Audi cars, the latest phone offering from Motorola is only available in conjunction with OnStar Telematics.
Speaking on this subject strictly off the record with several executives of Mercedes, GM, and BMW, they personally are not so thrilled about it. However, consumers seem to love it and are eager to have it on their cars. Car makers are eager to comply with the consumers wishes. Are we just rushing into this with our eyes closed?
I welcome commentary from our club members on this subject.