The Chinese communist government routinely collects all kinds of data of its citizens as part of its surveillance system. Now, automakers that manufacture electric cars are forced to share real-time data of their customer vehicles.
Sharing car data
According to media reports, more than 200 auto manufacturers, including BMW, Daimler, and Tesla, have been sharing data with the government. In most cases, the owner of the car is not aware that they are being monitored by the government, and in real-time. Electric cars first send data to the manufacturer. The manufacturer then sends around 61 data points to the government. This includes details like battery charge, location, engine function, etc.
“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 and potentially can be used in order to affect your life and your freedom,” Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and author of the book Exploding Data, said to AP News.
According to Chinese communist officials, they are collecting data for better policy planning, improving public safety, and preventing fraud in subsidy programs. Car manufacturers claim that they are sharing data only because local laws ask them to do so.
“The automakers consider the data a precious resource… They gave you dozens of reasons why they can’t give you the data. They give you dozens of excuses. Then we offer the incentives. Then they want to give us the data because it’s part of their profit,” an anonymous government consultant said in a statement (IOL).
Electric vehicles only accounted for about 2.6 percent of the total vehicles sold last year in China. However, Beijing wants the share of new energy vehicles to rise to 20 percent by 2025. The decision is partly driven by a need to cut back on foreign dependence on energy. Another aim is to make China a global leader in vehicles that run on alternative fuels.
The push for privacy
The Chinese public has often had a neglectful attitude toward data privacy. A study by McKinsey & Company found that about 55 percent of U.S. and European respondents did not want their private data to be collected and sold off for profit. In contrast, a majority 77 percent of Chinese participants had zero interest in data privacy and did not care how their data was utilized.
While some companies store all information of their customers for data analysis, a few others avoid collecting data that might identify customers. “We take away the name, the identification number of the patient in question… We only look at the general data. And then we develop different algorithms to mine those data, but not to pinpoint any particular patient,” Eric Ho, group CEO of healthcare-focused payments processor IHD Pay, said to CNBC.
Meanwhile, human rights organizations have strongly condemned Beijing’s car data collection, identifying it as yet another instance where the communist regime has invaded the privacy of the public. In 2017, the government had forced residents of the Xinjiang region to install GPS trackers in their vehicles. This year, Beijing initiated a system to track vehicles using windshield radio frequency chips.
Though CCP officials claim that such actions aid in improving the safety of the people, it is also true that vehicle tracking is possibly just another way for Beijing to keep tabs on the activity of political dissidents and human rights activists.