Privacy group wants Google's driverless cars kept off the road

Consumer Watchdog seeks ban on any data collection from autonomous cars

A privacy group is calling on the California Assembly to keep Google's self-driving cars off the road.

Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit privacy group, sent an open letter to the Assembly today urging members to defeat a bill, SB 1289, that would allow Google's self-driving cars on California's roads unless the bill is amended to provide "adequate" privacy protection for the cars' users.

The letter (download PDF) asks legislators to ban all data collection from Google's autonomous cars.

"While we don't propose to limit the ability of the cars to function by communicating as necessary with satellites and other devices, the collection and retention of data for marketing and other purposes should be banned," wrote Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, and John Simpson, privacy project director. "Unless the bill is amended, once again society will be forced to play catch-up in dealing with the impact of the privacy invading aspects of a new technology."

Google has been pushing ahead with its research into developing autonomous automobiles that can be sold commercially.

Earlier this month, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles gave Google the state's first license for driverless cars. It was also the first autonomous vehicle license ever issued in the United States, according to the Nevada DMV website.

"The cars have a number of sensors, such as cameras, lasers and radar, to monitor road conditions and improve the technology," said Chris Gaither, a Google spokesman in an email to Computerworld. "For our testing purposes, the cars log data about their performance -- how fast they're going, where they are, where they detect obstacles, etc. -- as well as data from the equipment on the car."

Gaither noted that he could not say what, if any, data would continue to be collected from the cars once testing is over and they are being sold commercially. "It would be premature to speculate," he added.

The letter was sent to Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, who has not replied to a request for comment.

According to Gaither, Google's driverless cars have logged more than 200,000 miles so far.

Last month, Google executives went to Detroit looking for partners in the company's efforts to develop the vehicles. Anthony Levandowski, head of Google's self-driving car project, told an audience there that the company would like to get such cars on the road within the next decade.

A Google spokesman told Computerworld last month that the company has been reaching out to automakers but is keeping its options open.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is

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