Opinion: Are car makers listening to your conversations?

Alfa Romeo Giulia interior

To all the car makers who I’ve just discovered might have been recording what I’ve said in cars recently: I was joking. I don’t know what you heard, but I can make a guess.

And I was totally kidding. I don’t really say stuff like that. I already knew modern cars have all kinds of sensors and microphones and data loggers that record everything from the weight of your passengers (to figure out how to fire multi-stage airbags) to acceleration rates (which some insurance companies use to calculate premiums).

But the laws about what sort of information car makers can collect, and who they can share it with, are changing around the world – they’re getting weaker in the US, and stronger in Europe – and some government bodies and private companies want to access more data from your car, including footage from onboard cameras and, uh, sound recordings from inside the car.

Audi-interior-electronics.jpgWhich is creepy at the best of times, but for those drivers who vent frustration verbally – and volubly, and occasionally vulgarly – it’s a bit like discovering your Nanna was in the next room while you were watching the end of The Hateful Eight.

So it’s not impossible that somewhere in the world, there’s a luckless OEM employee whose computer is stained with shock-spat coffee, and whose ears are leaking salty tears, from listening to me commentating on other drivers. But, ahem, it’s all a misunderstanding.

I would never say those kinds of things. What kind of a barbarian do you think I am? Like that woman in the 4 Series backing out onto the road the other day? The one who blocked both lanes, then decided to check her handbag? It probably sounded like I called her something pretty rich, something that’s not quite PG friendly.

But you misheard me. I said, ahem, “Cupid stunt” – meaning, of course, that she, uh, had made me fall in love with her, with her daring antics. It was very affectionate, really. And the taxi driver who felt it was his god-given right to swerve into whatever lane suited him? I was calling him a “shining wit” – it was a compliment, for heaven’s sake.

I guess he must have misheard me, along with the data logger. Is it a conspiracy theory? On par with jet contrails controlling the weather or the Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor? Possibly – with almost 19 million cars on the road in Australia alone, who would even have time to listen to everything that got recorded?

On the other hand, it’s all computers doing the listening these days – like those Secret Squirrel NSA supercomputers that put another red flag next to your name every time you forward a Trump meme.

Car-interior.jpgVoice recognition technology is easily capable of pinging an email to your insurance company every time Siri hears you say, “Watch this.” Do car makers even have the right to listen in on what happens inside your ride? Well, think about the terms and conditions you agreed to on your infotainment system... oh, you didn’t read all that? Just clicked okay? Yeah, everyone does.

I don’t have time to read pages of guff that explains exactly what they’re collecting and what they do with it! I just want to get as quickly as possible to cranking up the Zeppelin and programming the GPS for the closest gym! (Sigh, the infotainment company already knows it was really “Neil Diamond” and “cake shop”.)

More MOTOR opinions

But the next time your car warns you that you’re straying from your lane, or that you’re speeding, or that you’re too close to the car in front, maybe take a moment to think about who else it might be telling. Oh, and lastly.

That guy on the pushie, who ran the stop sign and then got all self-righteous about cyclist’s rights? It might have sounded like I called him a “[REDACTED] piece of [REDACTED].” I did. F*@# that guy.

Get your free weekly report from the world of fast cars - subscribe to the MOTOR newsletter!