Self-Driving Cars Will Widen The Issue Of Multi-Party Privacy In A Really Bad Way

Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider

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[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column:]

You are at a bar and a friend of yours takes a selfie that includes you in the picture.

Turns out you’ve had a bit to drink and it’s not the most flattering of pictures.

In fact, you look totally plastered.

You are so hammered that you don’t even realize that your friend is taking the selfie and the next morning you don’t even remember there was a snapshot taken of the night’s efforts. About three days later, after becoming fully sober, you happen to look at the social media posts of your friend, and lo-and-behold there’s the picture, posted for her friends to see.

In a semi-panic, you contact your friend and plead with the friend to remove the picture.

The friend agrees to do so.

Meanwhile, turns out that the friends of that person happened to capture the picture, and many of them thought it was so funny that they re-posted it in other venues. It’s now on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. You look so ridiculous that it has gone viral. Some have even cut out just you from the picture and then made memes of you that are hilarious, and have spread like wildfire on social media.

Multi-Party Privacy A Looming Issue

Many people that are using social media seem to not realize that their privacy is not necessarily controlled solely by themselves.

If you end-up in someone else’s snapshot that just so happens to include you, maybe you are in the tangentially foreground or maybe even in the background, there’s a chance that you’ll now be found on social media if that person posts the photo.

Nowadays, the facial recognition is so good that your head can be turned and barely seen by the camera, and the lighting can be crummy, and there can be blurs and other aspects, and yet the computer can find a face. And, it can label the face by using the now millions of faces already found and tagged. The odds of remaining in obscurity in a photo online is no longer feasible for very long.

People are shocked to find that they went to the mall and all of a sudden there’s some postings that have them tagged in the photos.

You can be both the person “victimized” by this and also the person that causes others to be victimized.

I say this because I know some people that have gotten upset that others included them in a photo, and posted it without getting the permission of that person, and yet this same person routinely posts photos that include others and they don’t get their permission. Do as I say, not as I do, that’s the mantra of those people.

There’s a phrase for this multitude of participants involved in privacy, namely it is referred to as Multi-Party Privacy (MP).

Details About Multi-Party Privacy

Multi-Party Privacy has to do with trying to figure out what to do about intersecting privacy aspects in a contemporary world of global social media.

You might be thinking that privacy is a newer topic and that it has only emerged with the rise of the Internet and social media.

Well, you might be surprised to know that in 1948 the United Nations adopted a document known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 12 refers to the right of privacy. Of course, few at that time could envision fully the world we have today, consisting of a globally interconnected electronic communications network and the use of social media, and for which it has made trying to retain or control privacy a lot harder to do.

When you have a situation involving MP, you can likely have an issue arise with conflict among the participants in terms of the nature of the privacy involved. In some cases, there is little or no conflict and the MP might be readily dealt with, thus it is easy to ensure the privacy of the multiple participants.

More than likely, you’ll have to deal with Multi-Party Privacy Conflicts (MPC), wherein one or more parties disagree about the privacy aspects of something that intersects them.

In the story about you being in the bar and your friend snapped the unbecoming picture and posted it, you might have been perfectly fine with this and therefore there was no MPC. But, as per the story, you later on realized what had happened, and so you objected to your friend about the posting. This was then a conflict.

This was a MPC: Multi-parties involved in a matter of privacy, over which they have a conflict, because one of them was willing to violate the privacy of the other, but the other was not willing to do so.

In this example, your friend quickly acquiesced and agreed to remove the posting.

This seemingly resolved the MPC.

As mentioned, even if the MPC seems to be resolved, it can unfortunately be a situation wherein the horse is already out of the barn. The damage is done and cannot readily be undone. Privacy can be usurped, even if the originating point of the privacy breach is later somehow fixed or undone.

I realize that some of you will say that you’ve had such a circumstance and that rather than trying to un-post the picture that you merely removed the tag that had labeled you in the picture. Yes, many of the social media sites allow you to un-tag something that was either manually tagged or automatically tagged. This would seem to put you back into anonymity.

If so, it is likely short-lived.

All it will take is for someone else to come along and decide to re-apply a tag, or an automated crawler that does it. Trying to return to a state of anonymity is going to be very hard to do as long as the picture still remains available. There will always be an open chance that it will get tagged again.

Multi-Party Privacy And AI Autonomous Cars

What does all this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. We’re also aware of the potential privacy aspects and looking at ways to deal with them from a technology perspective (it will also need to be dealt with from a societal and governmental perspective too).

Herein, let’s take a close look at Multi-Party Privacy and the potential for conflicts, or MPC as it relates to AI self-driving cars.

You would normally think about the sensors of an AI self-driving car that are facing outward and detecting the world around the self-driving car. There are cameras involved, radar, sonar, LIDAR, and the like. These are continually scanning the surroundings and allow the AI to then ascertain as best possible whether there is a car ahead, or whether there might be a pedestrian nearby, and so on.

One question for you is how long will this collected data about the surroundings be kept?

You could argue that the AI only needs the collected data from moment to moment.

You’d likely be wrong in that assumption.

Some or all of that data might indeed be collected and retained. For the on-board systems of the self-driving car, perhaps only portions are being kept. The AI self-driving car likely has an OTA (Over The Air) update capability, allowing it to use some kind of Internet-like communications to connect with an in-the-cloud capability of the automaker or tech firm that made the AI system. The data being collected by the AI self-driving car can potentially be beamed to the cloud via the OTA.

Exploiting Multi-Party Private Data

If you were an auto maker or tech firm, and you could collect the sensory data from the AI self-driving cars that people have purchased from you, would you want to do so?

Sure, why not.

You could use it presumably to improve the capabilities of the AI self-driving cars, mining the data and improving the machine learning capabilities across all of your AI self-driving cars.

That’s a pretty clean and prudent thing to do.

You could also use the data in case there are accidents involving your AI self-driving car.

Let’s also though put on our money making hats.

If you were an auto maker or tech firm, and you were collecting all of this data, could you make money from it? Would third parties be willing to pay for that data? Maybe so. When you consider that the AI self-driving car is driving around all over the place, and it is kind of mapping whatever it encounters, there’s bound to be business value in that data.

It could have value to the government too.

Suppose your AI self-driving car was driving past a gas station just as a thief ran out of the attached convenience store. Voila, your AI self-driving car might have captured the thief on the video that was being used by the AI to navigate the self-driving car.

In essence, with the advent of AI self-driving cars, wherever we are, whenever we are there, the roaming AI self-driving cars are now going to up the ante on video capture. If you already were leery about the number of video cameras that are on rooftops and walls and polls, the AI self-driving car is going to increase exponentially.

Don’t think of the AI self-driving car as a car, instead think of it as a roaming video camera.

Right now, there are 250+ million cars in the United States.

Imagine if every one of those cars had a video camera, and the video camera had to be on whenever the car was in motion.

That’s a lot of videos. That’s a lot of videos of everyday activities.

Exponential Increase In Multi-Party Privacy Concerns

The point herein that if you believe in the Multi-Party Privacy issue, the AI self-driving car is going to make the MP become really big-time.

And, the MPC, the conflicts over privacy, will go through the roof.

One unanswered question right now is whether you as the owner of an AI self-driving car will get access to the sensor data collected by your AI self-driving car.

You might insist that of course you should, it’s your car, darn it. The auto makers and tech firms might disagree and say that the data collected is not your data, it is data owned by them. They can claim you have no right to it, and furthermore that you’re having it might undermine the privacy of others. We’ll need to see how that plays out in real life.

Let’s also consider the sensors that will be pointing inward into the AI self-driving car.

Yes, I said pointing inward.

There is likely to be both audio microphones inside the AI self-driving car and cameras pointing inward. Why? Suppose you put your children into the AI self-driving car and tell the AI to take them to school. I’m betting you’d want to be able to see your children and make sure they are Okay. You’d want to talk to them and let them talk to you. For this a myriad of other good reasons, there’s going to be cameras and microphones inwardly aimed inside AI self-driving cars.

If you were contemplating the privacy aspects of recording what the AI self-driving car detects outside of the self-driving car, I’m sure you’ll be dismayed at the recordings of what’s happening inside the AI self-driving car.

And, keep in mind that we’ll all be using driverless cars for ridesharing purposes.

There might be some AI self-driving ridesharing services that advertise they will never ever violate your privacy and that they don’t record what happens inside their AI self-driving cars.

Or, there might be AI ridesharing services that offer for an extra fee they won’t record. Or, for an extra fee they will give you a copy of the recording.

You might say that it is a violation of your privacy to have such a recording made.

But, keep in mind that you willingly went into the AI self-driving car.

There might even be some kind of agreement you agreed to by booking the ridesharing service or by getting into the self-driving car.

Some have suggested that once people know they are being recorded inside of a self-driving car, they’ll change their behavior and behave.

This seems so laughable that I can barely believe the persons saying this believe it. Maybe when AI self-driving cars first begin, we’ll sit in them like we used to do in an airplane, and be well-mannered and such, but after AI self-driving cars become prevalent, human behavior will be human behavior.

There are some that are exploring ways to tackle this problem using technology. Perhaps, when you get into the AI self-driving car, you have some kind of special app on your smartphone that can mask the video being recorded by the self-driving car and your face is not shown and your voice is scrambled. Or, maybe there is a bag in the self-driving car that you can put over your head (oops, back to the bag trick).

The Multi-Party Privacy issue arises in this case because there is someone else potentially capturing your private moments and it is in conflict with how you want your private moments to be used. Let’s extend this idea. You get into an AI self-driving car with two of your friends. You have a great time in the self-driving car. Afterward, one of you wants to keep and post the video, the other does not. There’s another MPC.


Some people will like having the video recordings of the interior of the AI self-driving car.

Suppose you take the family on a road trip. You might want to keep the video of both the interior shenanigans and the video captured of where you went. In the past, you might show someone a few pictures of your family road trip. Nowadays, you tend to show them video clips. In the future, you could show the whole trip, at least from the perspective of whatever the AI self-driving car could see.

For my article about family road trips and AI self-driving cars, see:

I hope that this discussion about Multi-Party Privacy does not cause you to become soured on AI self-driving cars.

Nor do I want this to be something of an alarmist nature.

The point more so is that we need to be thinking now about what the future will consist of. The AI developers crafting AI self-driving cars are primarily focused on getting an AI self-driving car to be able to drive. We need to be looking further ahead, and considering what other qualms or issues might arise. I’d bet that MPC will be one of them.

Get ready for privacy conflicts.

There are going to be conflicts about conflicts, you betcha.

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Copyright © 2019 Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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