Record Every Movement and then Sell the Data—What?

By Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director and Joe Cadillic, MassPrivatel Blog

Did you know that more than 325 million vehicles surveil drivers every day? One hundred million data transactions surge to the cloud every month. Automakers have used technology such as microphones, virtual assistants, and gaze-monitoring cameras to check out what you are doing and what you want.

Coming soon to a vehicle near you will be a deeper data-mining operation that will become the rule and not the exception.

The US-based company Cerence pitched to investors and automakers in February that they want to place in-cabin cameras linked to emotion-detecting AI-algorithms that can monitor the minutest facial expressions to determine what your micro-emotions are at any given moment. Yikes!

Cerence Chief Technology Officer Prateek Kathpal said during the pitch, “This is data that I think is the untapped potential that Cerence has for the future. What we’re looking at is sharing this data back with automakers and helping them monetize it.”

If you haven’t already realized it, the real potential for driverless cars has always been the aftermarket, not the selling of the actual vehicles. Automakers are chomping at the bit to get their hands on monetizing this kind of data and other entertainment/data mining connected value.

Cerence is not the only company that wants to mine our micro-expressions. Affecta, Xperi, and Eyeris have plans to roll out similar tech to spy on us in our private space. According to, these plans have been bolstered by an EU law that mandates all new cars to be equipped with some sort of driver-monitoring by mid-2020, and guess what? The US Senate has already introduced a similar law here.

Shelia: So, Joe, these devices will be able to detect what your micro-expression might be before an accident. What kind of implications does this have on determining guilt?

Joe: I am not an attorney, so I can only give an educated guess. My “feeling” (pun intended) is attorneys will use angry expressions or shouting obscenities to sway a potential jury.

Here’s how I see this playing out: the police or insurance company will request (junk science) micro-expression footage from the vendor. The attorney or insurance investigator will claim that the driver lost control of his or her emotions resulting in an avoidable accident. Which means the insurance company doesn’t have to pay the claim. It also allows law enforcement to issue the driver a citation.

Shelia: These companies say their in-car spy devices are for safety first, and the data mining is second. Why does that sound like they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

Joe: That’s because they are pulling the wool over our eyes. When it comes to having third-party surveillance in our vehicles, all bets are off. Many people don’t realize it, but third-party vendors are exempt from FOIA requests. So, if you were to ask your car dealership if your “OnStar” microphone is always listening to your conversations, they will tell you to contact the vendor directly. And good luck trying to get a straight answer from them.

Shelia: What are some of the other implications of spying inside a car do you foresee?

Joe: Real-time tracking, in-cab video/facial recognition are two immediate concerns that I foresee as being major concerns. Do you want corporations to identify you and your family every time they get in the car? Do you want them to track your whereabouts in real-time and sell that information to databrokers? All of these so-called safety features are nothing more than a privacy destroying smoke screen.

Shelia: Why is micro-expression data mining so tremendously valuable to marketers?

Joe: Let’s be clear—it is not the micro-expressions that are valuable to marketers, it is the hidden facial recognition data that is being collected of you and your family that is so valuable. If insurers can tie sad or mad faces to traffic accidents and not pay out claims, that is a win for insurance companies. If law enforcement can tie angry faces to accidents, then they can write more citations.

Hiding behind these so-called safety features are companies like Clearview AI, which make millions out of selling facial recognition images to third-parties and law enforcement. Selling the data is the real value.

Here are two articles that debunk microexpressions:

If you would like to keep track of the many issues currently involved in street surveillance, check out Joe’s blog called MassPrivatel. Every Monday, Joe includes on his blog a vast list of headlines from around the world on surveillance in general.

Also, the National Motorists Association has street surveillance news on the NMA’s Driving News Feed, updated daily.  Also, if you subscribe to Driving News Daily, a five times per week email, you can usually find a few stories each day on street and in-car surveillance (amongst other essential motorist rights headlines).

Thank you for reading the NMA’s Street Surveillance Watch Blog, and please consider joining the National Motorists Association today!

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