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Ken Magill

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Stupid Activist Watch: Could We Let 'Em Make the Damn Things First?


By Ken Magill

Having seen some pretty amazing technological advances in my hopefully far-from-finished life, I occasionally think about all the cool stuff I probably won’t live long enough to see.

A cure for diabetes, fully immersive video games, human colonies on other planets and smoking-hot, lifelike robot prostitutes come to mind.

The cool-stuff-I’ll-miss thought came to mind again last week when I learned Google has developed a driverless car.

A driverless friggin’ car. Oh, what I could do with one of those.

My wife and I recently took a trip to central Pennsylvania to visit what’s left of my mother’s side of the family—about a five-hour drive.

Imagine if we could make that trip mixing martinis all the way.

Then I could be the drunken relative no one wants to talk to before I even get there. I envision the passenger door popping open and me falling face first into the driveway.

In any case, while I fantasize about the endless possibilities of future technology—well, okay, a very narrow and vulgar set of future possibilities—there is one group with a seemingly endless capacity to ruin the fun for the rest of us.

Who could possibly see a downside to driverless cars? [Presuming they’re safe, of course.]

Why, privacy zealots, that’s who.

“Google's driverless cars should not be allowed on U.S. highways unless adequate privacy protections for users of the new technology are implemented, Consumer Watchdog said today,” said a press release last week.

“The nonpartisan, nonprofit group urged the California Assembly to defeat a bill, SB 1289, that would allow Google's driverless cars on California's roads unless the legislation is amended to provide adequate privacy protection for users of the technology.”

The things aren’t even in public use yet and privacy zealots are calling for data-collection bans.

"Without appropriate regulations, Google's vehicles will be able to gather unprecedented amounts of information about the use of those vehicles,” said a letter to California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez from Consumer Watchdog. “How will it be used? Just as Google tracks us around the Information Superhighway, it will now be looking over our shoulders on every highway and byway.”

Can these people imagine any beneficial scenarios for data potentially collected by Google’s driverless cars? Apparently not.

“The bill should be amended to ban all data collection by autonomous cars,” the letter continued. “While we don't propose to limit the ability of the cars to function by communicating as necessary with satellites and other devices, the collection and retention of data for marketing and other purposes should be banned.”

So does that mean my robot prostitute will be barred from remembering my name?


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Quinn Mallory
Date: 2012-06-05 17:07:50
Subject: Please state the nature of the driving emergency.

It does seem a rather stupid concern. I mean, what kind of marketing data could Google possibly gather from the car’s function? Besides, I believe the courts have already addressed the privacy issue with respect to cars and have determined that people do not enjoy absolute privacy within a vehicle (which is why the police can nab you for doing any number of illegal and questionable things while you’re in one).And I don’t necessarily see how data collection for the purposes of marketing is necessarily a bad thing. I can see the benefit of the car announcing in Siri’s voice, “I can go another 17 miles on my remaining fuel. Would you like me to stop for gas at the nearest gas station offering the lowest price gas or the nearest gas station regardless?”