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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Autonomous vehicles don't just use cameras to help steer themselves. To keep improving, they're also capturing and storing images of everything that surrounds them — which means they might catch you on camera if you're in the vicinity.

Why it matters: This is a big issue that privacy experts are just starting to think about. It's not clear who else might see those images — and without concrete rules on how data collected outside the vehicle may be used, bystanders' privacy could be at risk.

The big picture: Connected vehicles pose all sorts of potential privacy issues for car owners:

  • Your car's navigation system needs to know where you are to give directions.
  • To enable hands-free dialing, you usually sync your phone's contacts to the car.
  • When you use Apple CarPlay or Google's Android Auto, you may be exposing data from your car to third-party app providers.

In 2014, 20 automakers signed a voluntary set of automotive privacy principles, effective with 2017 models, agreeing to ask permission before using or sharing sensitive information about occupants, and to limit what they share with government and law enforcement.

None of those principles governs data collected about bystanders outside a vehicle. If the cameras on a fleet of AVs plying your neighborhood routinely capture your daily movements, you could be sharing a lot more than you realize.

"If someone knows where you’ve been — an abortion clinic, a mosque or church, or leaving a lover's apartment — it reveals private information about you."
— Lauren Smith, AV policy expert, Future of Privacy Forum

What we're hearing: We asked a half dozen automakers and AV tech companies how long they keep camera footage, how it is stored and who has access. The handful that replied assured us they take privacy very seriously, but didn't offer any specifics about bystander privacy.

People can't expect privacy in public places, but there are some related precedents for how to limit potential exposure:

Yes, but: The situation may be different for AVs that rely on huge stored databases to train the car's algorithms, Smith notes.

  • Extensive, repeated mapping of a neighborhood is needed to develop the technology.
  • To design safer systems, it might be important to clearly see a pedestrian's face to know whether they are paying attention to traffic.

The bottom line: It's possible to retain only safety-critical data while discarding other sensitive information, privacy experts say, but steps must be started now.

  • It would require asking questions about what camera data is collected, how it's used, with whom it's shared, how much is retained, and how it's stored and protected.
  • Then, AV developers can consider the tradeoffs between safety and privacy, and what steps can be taken to mitigate risk.

Go deeper

31 mins ago - Technology

Facebook Oversight Board overturns 4 of its 5 first cases

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook's independent Oversight Board published its first set of decisions Thursday, overturning 4 of the 5 cases it chose to review out of 20,000 cases submitted.

Why it matters: The decision to go against Facebook's conclusions in 4 out of 5 instances gives legitimacy to the Board, which is funded via a $130 million grant from Facebook.

New York AG: State severely undercounted COVID nursing home deaths

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Data from New York's public health department undercounted COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%, according to a report released Thursday by state Attorney General Letitia James.

The big picture: Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration did not include nursing home patients who died after being transferred to the hospital in its tally of over 8,500 nursing home deaths, according to the report. Data provided to the attorney general's office from 62 nursing homes "shows a significantly higher number of resident COVID-19 deaths can be identified than is reflected" in the official count.

Trading platforms curb trading on high-flying Reddit stocks

Major trading platforms including Robinhood, TDAmeritrade and Interactive Brokers are restricting — or cutting off entirely — trading on high-flying stocks like GameStop and AMC Entertainment.

Why it matters: It limits access to the traders that have contributed to the wild Reddit-driven activity of the past few days — a phenomenon that has gripped Wall Street and the country.

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