Submission to “Science and Technology in Society” Conference

I’ve made the following submission to the Science and Technology in Society conference sponsored by the School of Public Policy at George Mason University, The Center for International Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University, the Science and Technology Studies Program at Virginia Tech, and The American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS.

Privacy and the Design of Vehicle Safety Communication Technologies

Michael Zimmer
Doctoral Candidate
Department of Culture & Communication
New York University

Recent advances in wireless technologies have led to the development of intelligent, in-vehicle safety applications designed to share information about the actions of nearby vehicles, potential road hazards, and ultimately predict dangerous scenarios or imminent collisions. These vehicle safety communication (VSC) technologies rely on the creation of autonomous, self-organizing, peer-to-peer wireless communication networks – so-called ad-hoc networks – connecting vehicles with roadside infrastructure and with each other. In these networks, vehicles transmit, collect and process data with each other to provide real-time safety information about the immediate surroundings. Data messages, which are automatically transmitted by your car 10 times per second, potentially include such information as a car’s location, speed and telemetry data, and a vehicle identification number.

As the technical standards and communication protocols for VSC technologies are still being developed, certain value and ethical implications of these new information technologies emerge – including the privacy of a driver’s personal information. Coupled with the predicted safety benefits of VSC applications is a potential rise in the ability to surveil a driver engaging in her everyday activities on the public roads. Most importantly, since VSC technologies are still in the developmental stage, it becomes crucial to understand how the engineers can be proactive in their technological designs to support existing norms of personal information flow in the context of highway travel. The paper will discuss how the design of VSC technologies might alter personal data flows in politically significant ways, and reveal how close attention to values might inform and guide the design decisions of such technological systems.

The research for this paper was made possible by The PORTIA Project: Privacy, Obligations and Rights in Technologies of Information Assessment.

UPDATE: The full paper can be downloaded from the PORTIA @ NYU page.


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