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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

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Biden starts negotiating to raise capital gains tax rate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden wants to nearly double the capital gains tax paid by wealthy Americans, as first reported yesterday by Bloomberg and confirmed by Axios.

Counterintuitive: Biden's plan is better for private fund managers (hedge, PE, VC, etc.) than what he proposed during the campaign.

Scoop: Caitlyn Jenner makes it official for California governor

Caitlyn Jenner. Photo: Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Former Olympic decathlete and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner has filed her initial paperwork to run for governor of California and will officially announce her bid later today, her campaign tells Axios.

The big picture: Jenner, a longtime Republican, is seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall election, hoping her celebrity status and name recognition can yield an upset in the nation's most populous state.

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
2 hours ago - Sports

New laws, new rules bring big changes to college sports

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The college sports landscape could change more in the next six months than it has in the last 50 years, as the NCAA grapples with new competition, new laws and new rules.

How it works... 1. Startup leagues: Investors are flocking to new leagues that aim to compete with the NCAA, evidence of just how much opposition there is to the amateurism model — and how much belief there is in new ones.

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