If we pause for a moment and think to the future of smart cars, half of us probably start daydreaming of zipping around in sleek flying machines while the other half starts eyeing their plastic model of the Batmobile hanging from the rearview mirror.

But have you ever stopped to think about what’s actually happening with the technological developments of cars? Already we have vehicles with cameras to help you back out of the driveway, touch screens installed into the dash, and the capability of calling your husband to start cooking that pizza before you get home.

We also have connected cars, which have embedded mobile broadband chips and the ability to communicate with other cars in a way that drastically reduces the number of roadside accidents.

And beyond that, we have cars that drive themselves.

As our vehicles are getting smarter, they’re also producing more data. This means your data privacy concerns are not only limited to your personal computer and the apps that your teenage daughter is using—your data privacy concerns now have to do with the car sitting in your driveway that has the capability of generating, recording, and sharing data.

It is projected that there will be over 380 million connected vehicles by 2021.

Your Valuable Data

Cars have evolved beyond basic machinery and are now becoming vehicles of data, capable of sharing where you’re going, how fast you got there, how many people went with you, and what kind of music you listened to.

With sensors and cameras being incorporated into the makeup of vehicles, they can now collect more data than ever before, and this data can be used and analyzed to make more money.

So your vehicle-generated data is the type of information that companies will want to know in order to learn how to better market their products to you, and it’s information that you want to be aware and in charge of.

As the number of data-gathering cars increases, consumers will want to become more aware of what kind of data their car is generating, as well as who keeps that type of private information.

Who Has That Information Now And Who Wants It?

Currently, data-generating vehicles are still in their early years, and it will be a number of years until most vehicles are as up-to-date, so the tug between data ownership is most heavily on the side of the car manufacturers.

But for how long? Who knows.

Without regulation, companies have access to everything within a very large sphere of people’s lives. Think of the amount of data!

And who might be eyeing your vehicle-generated data like a burger fresh off the grill?

Well, really any industry that would gain from learning about a consumer’s driving habits such as speed and regular routes, phone calls, radio or phone usage…even your personal conversations.

For example, this could include radio stations that want to better know what everyone’s listening to. It could include companies who develop car stereo systems and want to know how to cater to their technological-advancing drivers, or insurance companies tracking how many times you use your phone while driving so they can adjust your rates accordingly. It could even include car seat manufacturers who want to do a study on how fast or how carefully most parents drive, and then use that information to design their car seats and market them in a specific way.

Companies like these will want to know things like how you drive, your age, your income, what you buy, or if you have kids. This is the type of information that is pure gold for businesses because it enables them to “know” you and improve the way they market their products to you.

These days, private information is currency, and industries want it for their own gain.

Industries want to make money, and so they want your information.

Suddenly there is yet another massive data mine that consumers need to be aware of as they go about their lives. Just as you would protect your information as you use your phone or computer, now it’s incredibly important to begin thinking about where your vehicle-generated data is going and how you need to protect it.

Today, self-driving cars can generate one gigabyte of data per second, which means just five minutes of driving will produce more data than your iPhone could handle. With this amount of data being gathered, all kinds of business opportunities are arising, and before long the moneymaking data vultures will begin circling above your car.

So the next time you’re driving to work, think about the data that is being generated with every mile, every Bluetooth connection, and every radio station change—those little things we all do without thinking twice. The data your car is generating is valuable and coveted and needs to be secured and protected.

Hack Attack

Worried about your computer getting a virus? Well, what if your car was at risk too?

Yet another source of concern is the safety of your vehicle-generated data from attackers. As vehicle technology continues to evolve, the security of your car desperately needs to adapt with the times. Attackers will move on from mobile phones and laptops to the car sitting in your garage or parked on the street.

Vehicles have become gold mines, and this makes them valuable targets for hackers and malware.

No one with a smart phone or computer wants their device to be targeted for private information and details to be stolen. The same goes for today’s vehicles.

The Cost Of Convenience

Imagine this: your check engine light just turned on and you take it to a mechanic for repairs. Your repairman has access to the data stored on your car and it tells him exactly what’s wrong with it. This would revolutionize the auto-mechanic industry. It expedites the mechanic’s job and therefore saves the consumer money.

But at what cost?

We need to be aware of what we are giving away in the name of convenience.  Are the small perks worth the encroachment of privacy? Are they worth the monetization of your data?

Are they worth the very real possibility of someone analyzing every word of every personal conversation and phone call you’ve ever had in your vehicle, including that one with your spouse after celebrating your anniversary, or that one you had with your daughter after picking her up from school?

A Step In The Right Direction

In a recent proposal by a California senator, the contest between vehicle data ownership was confronted and a new bill was unveiled that would allow vehicle owners to see their car’s data and decide whether or not they wanted to share it.

This is an encouraging step in the right direction. But so much more is needed.

As consumers we need to be aware of what is happening in the ever-changing world around us. We need to be realistic in terms of how the marketplace views our data and us: money.

Protecting Your Data

It is our responsibility to hold both the automobile industry and lawmakers accountable for the protection of our rights. We need to mandate transparency from our automakers and require advancements in security and privacy. Additionally, we need to stay current with the knowledge of our rights and our legal protection as new bills are put into place.

The vehicle industry has previously had practically nothing to do with technology and little-to-no need for the security of such. Having no prior experience in this field, automakers need to begin bringing in software analysts, networking engineers, and data scientists to begin shaping the security and privacy we as consumers need.

But we also need consumers to be aware of what is going on.

We need to be aware that our vehicles are becoming data-generating machines on wheels, we need to be aware of what we are sacrificing in the name of comfortable convenience, and we need to be aware of the steps we need to take in order to protect ourselves.