Over 200 manufacturers transmit position information and other data points to monitoring centers
When Shan Junhua bought his white Tesla Model X, he knew it was a fast, beautiful car. What he didn’t know is that Tesla constantly sends information about the precise location of his car to the Chinese government.
Tesla is not alone. China has called upon all electric vehicle manufacturers in China to make the same kind of reports — potentially adding to the rich kit of surveillance tools available to the Chinese government as President Xi Jinping steps up the use of technology to track Chinese citizens.
“I didn’t know this,” said Mr. Shan. “Tesla could have it, but why do they transmit it to the government? Because this is about privacy.”
More than 200 manufacturers, including Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Mitsubishi and U.S.-listed electric vehicle start-up NIO, transmit positional information and dozens of other data points to government-backed monitoring centres. Generally, it happens without car owners’ knowledge.
The automakers say they are merely complying with local laws, which apply only to alternative energy vehicles.
Chinese officials say the data is used for analytics to improve public safety, facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning, and to prevent fraud in subsidy programmes.
But other countries that are major markets for electronic vehicles the U.S., Japan, across Europe do not collect this kind of real-time data.
And critics say the information collected in China is beyond what is needed to meet the country’s stated goals. It could be used not only to undermine foreign carmakers’ competitive position, but also for surveillance particularly in China, where there are few protections on personal privacy.
There is also concern about the precedent these rules set for sharing data from next-generation connected cars, which may soon transmit even more personal information.
“You’re learning a lot about people’s day-to-day activities and that becomes part of what I call ubiquitous surveillance, where pretty much everything that you do is being recorded and saved,” said Michael Chertoff, who served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.
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