Jan 152014


Cars are becoming smarter than ever, with global positioning systems, Internet connections, data recorders and high-definition cameras.

Drivers can barely make a left turn, put on their seatbelts or push 80 miles an hour without their actions somehow, somewhere being tracked or recorded.

Automakers say they are only responding to consumer demand, and besides, they and regulators say, the new technologies help them better understand consumers and make the cars safer. But privacy advocates increasingly see something more unsettling for drivers: that someone is always watching.

Now two senators are trying to give car owners more say over some of that data. Early next week, Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, will introduce a bill stipulating that car owners control the data collected on the device called the event data recorder. The recorder, commonly known as a black box, collects information like direction, speed and seatbelt use in a continuous loop. It is in nearly every car today, and in September, it is set to become mandatory.

“We’ve got real privacy concerns on the part of the public,” Senator Hoeven said in a telephone interview. “People are very concerned about their personal privacy, especially as technology continues to advance,” he said, referring to revelations of spying by the National Security Agency. Fourteen states have already passed similar laws.

The data collected by the black box has already been the center of litigation by law enforcement agencies and insurance companies seeking to use the information against car owners. The bill would limit what the data could be used for and would require a warrant to release the data without the owner’s consent.

But even this legislation covers only part of what is a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

At the International CES in Las Vegas this week, automakers and technology companies announced a stream of new products and services aimed at making cars more connected.

Google announced it had a partnership with G.M., Audi, Honda and Hyundai to bring its Android platform to vehicle infotainment systems by the end of this year. At the same time, G.M. said it would start an app shop, where drivers can use apps like Priceline.com to book a hotel room and CitySeeker, which provides information about attractions and restaurants near the vehicle.

The days of a driver being alerted to a deal at a retailer as he drives nearby are rapidly approaching.

Many consumers, though, are unaware of just how much personal information is collected and used, privacy advocates say.

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