Saturday, September 1, 2012

Who's Spying on You? -- Your Car!

I recently purchased a 2012 Toyota Prius C hybrid, great car.  I really love the gas millage and the fact it's easy on the environment is an added bonus.  Returning to the house with my new car, I cracked open the owners manual[1] for the first time.  On pages 18 and 19 I noticed a section, "Vehicle control and operational data recording", hum this is interesting.  The manual goes on to say the vehicle is equipped with sophisticated computers recording vehicle operation.  My first thought was -- black box -- like type found on modern aircraft, only in my car.  Toyota calls the black box the Event Data Recorder (EDR).

The Prius manual describes the following operational parameters subject to recording.

  • engine speed
  • electric motor speed
  • accelerator status
  • brake status
  • vehicle speed
  • shift position
While it's clear these settings are recorded, it's not clear what else may be recorded.  For instance, Prius purchased with navigation system options also have GPS coordinates and time/date information.  Knowing where and when events occur makes them much more valuable.  The manual specifically notes no conversations are recorded, sound, or pictures.  Oh, what a relief.  Toyota notes the data is used for research development and to improve quality.

Finally, the Prius manual goes on to say Toyota will not disclose EDR data to third parties except...
  • Upon consent of owner/lessee
  • Official request by police, court, or government agency
  • Research not specific to owner or vehicle
The first bullet is Me, the Prius owner.  I can approve the distribution of my EDR data to a 3rd party.  Ok, makes sense.  The second bullet, police, court, or government agencies -- this concerns me.  The effect of this is that if your involved in a crash, local, state, or federal officials can collect your EDR data without your knowledge or consent.  Similarly, EDR data could be gathered during a surveillance operation when you take your car to the dealers for an oil change.  Not likely, I admin, but if it's possible then it's safe to assume such surveillance will occur at some point.  The concern is that EDR data can be used against owners in a court of law or for surveillance purposes.  While you may be able to exercise your 5th Amendment Rights in court, it's likely your car is not subject to such laws.  One trip the Electronic Frontier Foundation[2] will convince you our laws have not caught up to our technology capabilities -- to the detriment of our privacy.

In my opinion, until privacy laws improve, I wish manufactures would not provide features with no immediate consumer benefit that may potentially be used to violate privacy.  I'm not talking out doing away with the Internet or light bulbs -- these have huge consumer benefits.  I considered writing Toyota and asking how to deactivate the EDR, after all it's for research and quality control according to them.  It should not be important to the operation of the vehicle -- right?  Perhaps there is some Prius hack info on the net.


[1] "Toyota Prius C Owners Manual." Toyota. Web.<http://www.toyota.com/t3Portal/document/om/OM52B58U/pdf/Forward.pdf>.
[2] Electronic Frontier Foundation, <https://www.eff.org/>


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