Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

A Surveillance Contractor Is Marketing a Service for Locating Cars in Nearly Every Country in ‘Near Real-Time’

Joseph Cox, Vice:

“Ulysses can provide our clients with the ability to remotely geolocate vehicles in nearly every country except for North Korea and Cuba on a near real time basis,” the document, written by contractor The Ulysses Group, reads. “Currently, we can access over 15 billion vehicle locations around the world every month,” the document adds.

[…]

Consumers may be unaware that automakers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) often include sensors in vehicle parts that collect information such as their airbag and seatbelt status, engine temperature, and current location, and then transmit that information either back to the automaker or to third parties. Aggregator companies also purchase or obtain this data, repackage it, and then sell that data or products based on it to their own clients.

“Vehicle telematics is data transmitted from the vehicle to the automaker or OEM through embedded communications systems in the car,” the Ulysses document continues. “Among the thousands of other data points, vehicle location data is transmitted on a constant and near real time basis while the vehicle is operating.”

I have been writing about the intrusions on our privacy by unaccountable technology companies for nearly a decade now, but I have not lost the capacity to be surprised. This article shocked me.

On some level, it should not be so surprising, right? Like, we all know that cars have computers in them and a bunch of communications equipment. We can all assume that automakers are not building their own GPS systems, automatic emergency diallers, or traffic detection software. So of course a bunch of data is just floating around on practically every car made in the last twenty years or so, and because data is inherently valuable, of course it is being sold by scummy vendors to some terrifying company nobody has heard of.

Yet this feels like an intrusion on a vastly different scale. Imagine if this is combined with those automatic license plate readers that have little to no privacy legislation governing their use in many countries.

Update: I have updated the headline from “locating nearly any car on Earth” to “locating cars in nearly every country”.