Silent Witness: Is Your Car Listening Too Closely?

Your vehicle possesses remarkable listening capabilities, thanks to the rapid advancements in voice technology and generative AI. However, as these innovations infiltrate the commercial automobile industry, questions arise regarding the extent to which our cars should understand us and what we may unwittingly sacrifice in return.

Industry giants like Qualcomm are showcasing systems that promise seamless integration between on-board voice assistants and real-time data from the cloud. In essence, cars are evolving from mere transportation devices into intelligent, autonomous platforms, as Jim McGregor, the principal analyst for TIRIAS Research, aptly puts it.

Qualcomm recently announced a partnership with SoundHound to develop and test SoundHound Chat AI for Automotive. This voice assistant, equipped with generative AI capabilities, will be incorporated into the Snapdragon Digital Chassis concept vehicle and the AI-based Snapdragon cockpit platform. SoundHound’s impressive voice recognition and conversational AI capabilities enable drivers to make quick and seamless inquiries.

This platform draws from an extensive pool of over 100 information sources, including third-party large language models. It selects the most relevant response among them, as Qualcomm explained in their announcement. For example, a voice assistant could find a recipe, add the necessary ingredients to a digital shopping cart, and arrange for them to be ready for pickup at the driver’s local grocery store at a specified time. Furthermore, AI can learn and improve over time, adapting to user preferences and suggesting healthier or more authentic options.

However, not everyone believes that these conveniences are worth the trade-off.

Mozilla, a privacy watchdog, recently released its research findings on how automotive brands collect and utilize data and personal information. Their assessment is unequivocal: “Modern cars are a privacy nightmare.” What AI service providers view as revolutionary mega-platforms enhancing convenience, Mozilla’s privacy investigators label as “data-gobbling machines” with unparalleled capabilities to observe, listen, and gather information about a driver’s actions and whereabouts.

The Mozilla team scrutinized 25 automobile brands, including the largest and most popular manufacturers, and found that none of them met their privacy standards. They all received Mozilla’s “Privacy Not Included” warning label, making cars the worst category of products for privacy ever reviewed. Offenses included excessive data collection, data sharing or selling, and inadequate control over driver data.

In particular, Tesla faced additional criticism, as it was only the second product ever reviewed to receive all of Mozilla’s privacy “dings.” The report cited several accidents and fatalities attributed to Tesla’s AI-powered autopilot.

In conclusion, unlike smart faucets or voice assistants, opting out of driving is not as simple, as it is a necessity for many. An American Auto Association survey from 2019 revealed that the average American spends nearly an hour per day in their car, offering ample opportunity for their vehicles to learn a great deal about them.

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