May 10, 2019 - Technology

What your car will know about you

In this illustration, the viewer looks through the windshield from inside a car and sees a green square around a blurred persons face.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Cars will soon be able to recognize you by your eyes, skin, gait and even your heartbeat, enabling a host of personalized experiences but raising troubling privacy questions, too.

Why it matters: New biometric technologies being developed by automakers will authenticate your identity and help keep you safe by also monitoring your health and wellbeing. But unless carefully guarded, that personal data can also be easily exploited by cybercriminals.

What's happening: Automakers and their suppliers are working on a variety of driver-identification technologies such as facial and iris scans, as well as voice and fingerprint tracking.

  • They would enable a driver to start the engine without a key and the car would automatically adjust the seats, mirrors, climate and audio settings.
  • The car could then also communicate with home automation systems, turning on lights or opening the garage, for example, and automatically pay for tolls, parking or gas.
  • For AVs and car-sharing apps, ID verification is important to ensure passengers get into the right vehicle and are who they say they are.

What's next? Such ID features are coming in the next year or so, followed by a second wave of more advanced biometric technologies. Goode Intelligence projects the market for automotive-related biometric content may reach nearly $1 billion by 2023.

  • An alcohol detection system that could be available as early as next year would know whether a motorist is drunk by gathering a whiff of their ambient breath. The system is being developed by a public-private partnership.
  • B-Secur is marketing its Heartkey technology that can identify a driver by the unique rhythm of their heartbeat, and measure their level of stress or fatigue or even detect early signs of a stroke or heart attack, CEO Alan Foreman tells Axios.
  • Aerendir Mobile's sensors capture micro-vibrations — tiny muscle twitches from cells in the human nervous system — to identify individuals and monitor their well-being by creating a neurological signature that's akin to a million-character-long password, founder Martin Zizi tells Axios.
"My body is my life password."
— Martin Zizi, Aerendir

Yes, but: Just as facial recognition systems are sounding alarms about privacy and human rights, biometric technologies in vehicles raise privacy concerns, experts say.

  • Biometric information can be particularly revealing and immutable, Lauren Smith, senior counsel for the Future of Privacy Forum, tells Axios. Unlike a password or account number, you can't change your biological makeup.
  • Without federal laws on bioprivacy, carmakers need to abide by state data-protection laws, many of which require notice before biometric data is collected, and the ability to opt out.
  • Carmakers that signed the Automotive Privacy Principles created a higher, opt-in threshold for biometric information, requiring consent before data can be used for marketing or shared with others.

The big picture: As cars evolve into smartphones on wheels, the industry focus is on personalization — delivering convenient, tailored experiences such as enabling in-car payments, easing daily stress or communicating with city infrastructure.

  • As Goode Intelligence CEO Alan Goode notes, that all starts by identifying who is in the vehicle.

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