Self-Driving Cars: House Republicans Hold Hearings on Surveillance, Data Harvesting

Self-driving cars are real enough to be the subject of a Wednesday hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Innovation, Data and Commerce Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R.-Fla.), and billions are at stake.

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Since 2016, the National Transportation Safety Board has required carmakers to install black boxes in vehicles so that investigators can grab a snapshot of what the car or truck was doing before an accident.

In the seven years that followed, the amount of data our vehicles generate and collect has exploded. Who gets access to the black box? Maybe everybody.

The question of how data is collected and harvested takes on a new dimension when the driver is the car itself—working off your instructions typed into the cloud.

Who will tell all those state troopers looking for out-of-state plates at their favorite speed trap that a computer at headquarters tracking the self-driving cars has already generated the speeding tickets, no matter what state they are from?

This is an elementary example of the new government surveillance at play.

Now, imagine a corrupt FBI tracking the campaign staffers for an opposition party.

In a joint statement from Bilirakis and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R.-Wash.), the chairwoman of the whole committee, they said:

American leadership in self-driving vehicles is vital to winning the future. Self-driving cars have the potential to transform lives—from reducing traffic deaths and enhancing the mobility of senior citizens and people living with disabilities to securing American jobs driven by American-led technology.

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While Congress is focused on improving people’s lives and protecting American jobs, Wall Street is looking at its next cash spinner.

In a 2021 McKinsey white paper, “Unlocking the full life-cycle value from connected-car data,” the authors point out:

To date, however, most players have overlooked opportunities to monetize data from these vehicles—a significant oversight, considering how companies in other industries are aggressively generating value from data. In fact, seven of the ten most valuable companies in the world already generate billions in profits from data-based services.

More than two decades ago, Americans lost control of their online data to the advertising and social media giants—who literally picked through our lives for any nugget they could exploit for a buck.

McKinsey saw two years ago that the auto companies were able to take full advantage of the opportunities:

To date, however, few players have created dedicated, cross-functional data-monetization units for this purpose. Instead, many functions still work in silos, with few connections between R&D and marketing and sales.

Still, the market is rich enough to pull people in:

The industry has made progress in addressing all of these issues, however, and connectivity is poised to deliver significant value. On a per-vehicle level, this equates to up to $310 in revenue and $180 in cost savings per year, on average, in 2030.

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Ultimately, your car will become another cash data cash register for the original equipment manufacturers past the start of production—just like your iPhone.

As in consumer technology, where features are constantly updated, OEMs and suppliers must continue developing their offers beyond SOP [start of production] to stay relevant. This capability will necessitate ongoing user testing after initial delivery to identify improvement opportunities, as well as continuous software updates, releases, and features, to ensure high customer engagement. If done correctly, the upgrades will allow players to create differentiating “signature moments,” similar to those iPhone users now enjoy after OS upgrades and new app releases.

Here we go again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

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