Is Your Car Spying On You?

New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine was seriously injured in a crash on the Garden State Parkway. In the days following, witnesses, including a state patrol officer assigned to ride with the governor, gave varying accounts, most estimating the governor’s SUV traveling at a speed of more than 70mph. Now it seems that the vehicle had been traveling at 91mph in the final seconds before the crash, and, moreover, the governor, seated in the front passenger seat, was not wearing his seatbelt. How do we know this?

Woman with binoculars

Because the Chevy Suburban used in his motorcade contained a black box. A lucky fluke? Turns out most domestic cars sold within the last few years all contain them as well. Who knew?

Event Data Recorders

Since 2000, most domestic automobile manufacturers, namely General Motors (GM) and Ford, have been quietly installing what are technically called Motor Vehicle Event Data Recorders (MVEDR). These are devices based on IEEE standards formally adopted in 2002. Since the 1970s, GM has been installing something it called Sensing and Diagnostic modules (SDM) in car models fitted with airbags. SDMs, which captured and recorded data only after a crash, were originally designed to help GM improve the performance of the airbags and its crash defense mechanisms. MVEDR data, in at least one case, prompted GM to make at least one vehicle safety recall.

The newer MVEDRs are wired to the car’s electronic sensing features and are constantly receiving input from various features in modern cars, not just the airbag system. Unlike the airplane versions, black boxes in cars do not record conversations inside the car and retain data from only the five seconds before a crash until a few seconds after, triggered by an increase in G-forces on the vehicle. The data is retained for as long as 45 days after an event. Until now, what MVEDRs capture–and even when they retain it–has been left up to the manufacturers.

To read full article: Security Watch: Is your car spying on you? – CNET reviews

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