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A Google driverless car drives on a test course (Credit... A Google driverless car drives on a test course (Credit: jurvetson, Flickr).
First there was the horseless carriage. Next comes the driverless car.

The advent of an autonomous vehicle is welcomed by many, but privacy advocates worry that recent state laws passed to accelerate their arrival overlooks something the vehicles carry besides people – data.

On Thursday, a bill that allows driverless cars on California roadways heads to the state's assembly appropriations committee and could soon be ready for Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. It has already passed the state senate. But a consumer's group is urging Brown to veto the bill, SB 1298, because it doesn't stipulate how Google – or other future driverless car manufacturers, for that matter – could collect customer data from the vehicle, or how it might be distributed to other parties.

In regard to customer privacy, the bill is "completely insufficient," writes John M. Simpson, director of the Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project. "It gives the user no control over what data will be gathered and how the information will be used."

Consumer Watchdog wants the bill to include a provision that mandates customers must explicitly give consent for any data collected by the cars and for how it could be used to gear advertising toward particular customers.

"Consumers enthusiastically adopted the new technology of the internet," Simpson said. "What we were not told was that our use of the information superhighway would be monitored and tracked in order to personalize corporate marketing and make Google a fortune. Now that Google is taking to the freeways, we must prevent inappropriate collection and storage of data about our personal movements and environment."

The bill itself authorizes the use of driverless cars on California roads and allows the state's Division of Motor Vehicles to create standards for the cars. It does not attempt to legislate how private data might be handled. It's nonetheless an important issue for automakers to monitor because California laws often become de facto standards that they follow nationwide.

For its part, Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., praised state lawmakers for their foresight in legislating for the arrival of driverless cars, but did not specifically address concerns raised by the consumer group. The technology behind driverless cars is in its infancy – with no motorists purchasing or operating autonomous vehicles, so it may be premature to say how a company could mine data, if it was gathered in the first place.

"Self-driving cars have the potential to significantly increase driving safety," the statement said. "We applaud ... the California legislature for building a thoughtful framework to enable safe, ongoing testing of the technology and to anticipate the needs and best interests of California citizens who may own vehicles with self-driving capabilities one day."

Consumer Watchdog has been a consistent critic of the search-engine behemoth. Last month, it opposed a $22.5 million settlement between Google and the Federal Trade Commission. In June, the not-for-profit organization had mimes trail Google shareholders at an annual meeting to jab at the company's data tracking.

Part of the organization's mission is to keep a careful eye on Google's privacy practices. It received a $100,000 grant from the Rose Foundation in August 2008 specifically to monitor the company and how it shares user data.

If Brown signs the bill, which is expected, California would become the third state to enact a law that prepares for the arrival of driverless cars. Nevada and Florida became the first and second, respectively, earlier this year.

While there's no imminent arrival of driverless cars for mainstream use, the auto industry is warming to their development, says the San Jose Mercury News. Two weeks ago, the newspaper reported that GM believes semi-autonomous vehicles will be available by the middle of the decade and "sophisticated" self-driving systems by 2025.

Earlier this year, Google said its driverless cars had completed about 300,000 miles of testing without an accident. The average U.S. driver has one accident every 165,000 miles, according to Mashable, which examined Federal Highway Administration and insurance data.

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  • 49 Comments
      donran42
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'll keep my 1988 RX7 thank you. It has all the technology needed, it's roomy and comfortable and gives me decent gas milage. All without the cookie cutter styling and outrageous cost of todays cars. Computers can't think outside the box which is often needed with some of the idiots on the road today.
      findrobin
      • 2 Years Ago
      For avertisement my azz. Try spying on and controlling the masses on the highways. Wake up people. Ah...better yet just stay asleep. Your better off that way because you can continue to act stupid because you are a moron. Just take the facism like good little sheep that you are. Remember what Einstein said; ..."when facism comes it will arrive in the name of democrocy"... But I suppose you think Einstein was an idiot.
      Jim
      • 2 Years Ago
      No more DUI charges I guess. Still could get you for PI
      LL
      • 2 Years Ago
      We were hit with a $500 insurance increase for my wife's Honda. Both of us have a perfect driving record with no claims ever. Shocked by this increase I went online to get some quotes for her car. The two sites I first visited were actually more expensive than our new rate, but then I found ( http://tinyurl.com/BestInsuranceQuotes ) I got a quote within minutes and ended up saving over $300 on our car insurance!
      psridgell
      • 2 Years Ago
      How will Lindsey Lohan crash cars if shes not driving ???
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'd worry more about that big radar or whatever right above my head...
      MERLIN
      • 2 Years Ago
      more high tech designed to eliminate jobs and destroy the value of life
        tharriger
        • 2 Years Ago
        @MERLIN
        To MERLIN: I'm not in favor of a driverless car, but I have problems with your posting. What jobs would be eliminated? Chauffeurs? (They are such a major part of our work force, eh?) Who would open the doors for the stuffy passengers? Or......., are you worried about all the foreign nationals who drive taxis in NYC? What "value of life" would be destroyed? The ability to drive recklessly and kill someone, run over small children, dogs, and armadillos, drive drunk, or what? Or....., are you concerned that NFL and NBA players would have nothing better to do than beat on their wives or girlfriends?
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think the concept of driverless cars are great for the elderly. We've seen so many old people losing control of their cars and killing people simply because they want to remain mobile and not housebound. That being said, the videos I have seen of the driverless cars in action look extremely dangerous for real drivers. The cars appear to be indecisive at times and unexpectedly stall or move slowly at intersections and making turns. This could be a real hazard for real drivers who won't be able to make sense out of the car's awkward movements and decision making skills.
      Bob
      • 2 Years Ago
      What info is anybody gonna get about me based on where I go? Maybe advertising firms will target ads to you based on your habits, but who cares about that? I guess they could pull up records of what cars were in an area if a crime was committed also.......What I worry about is if big brother gets involved and tracks your milage and allows you so may per year and taxes you for overages past that....
      Arlene
      • 2 Years Ago
      I can't imagine why I would want a driverless car. Driving a car is one of the joys I get out of life. I don't want to give it up. It will be bad enough when I get too old to drive. Besides, the price of that car would be way more than my pension and Social Security could handle.
      jshortsleeves
      • 2 Years Ago
      How about letting the marketplace determine how much people car about data on them being used for other people's profit. We all have control here about how our data is shared. I we don't like it we don't buy the car. Simple, no? Of course we'd need to also discontinue use of our mobile [hones, GPS, cable TV, etc and we'd also need to figure out hot to avoid intersections with so-called red light cameras.....and who knows what else?
      pslcitizen
      • 2 Years Ago
      Which do you want, driverless cars or privacy? How do you think GPS works? Duh..
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