Automakers give the Chinese government access to location data for electric cars
China's government has used the past few years to push car manufacturers and citizens to adopt hybrid and electric cars to cut into the country's pollution level. But many of these so-called "new energy vehicles" have also tracked the location of drivers, and a number of government officials and entities have had access to these data, according to a sweeping new report from Associated Press .
More than 200 manufacturers (both national and foreign) transmit data to "state-supported monitoring centers", according to the report, including one called "The Shanghai Electric Vehicle Public Data Collection, Monitoring and Research Center" and another known as "National Big Data Alliance of New Energy Vehicles. "
Chinese officials told AP that these data – which includes real-time location of cars, and" dozens of other data points " – gathered to "improve public security" and "facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning." Fficials says the data is also used to "prevent fraud" in the state subsidy program for new energy vehicles, which offer steep discounts on clean cars. The surveillance systems have been in place since the beginning of 2017, according to a report from the International Council for Clean Transport from last year.
The staff at the data surveillance centers can look at a map, click on a car and see things like brand and model, mileage and battery charge, according to the report AP .
Daimler (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz) told The Verge that the company shares this data with the government because it is mandate but that customers are "fully informed" of how it is used. Volkswagen offered a similar explanation, but added that customers had to agree on the data sharing agreement. A NIO representative, an EV launch based in China, said that the company fulfills "with the local rules and rules in the markets in which we operate." Ford refused to comment. Representatives of Nissan, BMW and Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.
The new focus on data sharing mandate raises questions to automakers worldwide, as they are all keen to increase their presence in China. China is the largest electric vehicle market in the world, and many of these companies have used the past few years (and in some cases decades) to establish themselves in the country. They have cooperated with Chinese car companies in joint ventures mandated by the government. They lobbied to create special economic zones that would allow foreign companies to produce cars on Chinese soil before China announced a change of regulation this year; Tesla is in line to be the first foreign EV company to open a factory there.
But making a license around data is a potentially full proposition. Although data remains anonymous – which is not guaranteed, according to the report – it can still be a powerful tool when placed next to the deep amount of monitoring strategies employed by China President Xi Jinping. The Chinese government had previously worked on a program that would require new cars to be equipped with traceable RFID chips. To a greater extent, Xi has increased the data acquisition capabilities of his government in recent years, established a system of social credit that ranks residents on their behavior, and equipped cities (and police) with face recognition software. It also uses many of these technologies to identify and capture as many as 1 million Muslims in modern ways.