Personal Information and the Design of Vehicle Safety Communication Technologies: an Application of Privacy as Contextual Integrity

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CitationPresented to the AAAS Science & Technology in Society Graduate Conference, Washington DC, April 2005
AuthorMichael T. Zimmer


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, include such information as a car's location, speed and telemetry data, and potentially a unique 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. By approaching the problem of privacy in public through the theory of contextual integrity, 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.

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