Almost any recent car is a part of the Internet of Things, the vastly expanding universe of devices we own and operate that are connected to the web. Which also means many modern cars can track your whereabouts, and do.
The latest reminder of this is a story Wednesday in Motherboard, Vice’s tech and science site, which the office of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden gave a document produced by a surveillance contractor called The Ulysses Group. That surveillance contractor — which has previously done business with the U.S. government — claimed that it can access “over 15 billion vehicle locations around the world every month,” apparently as part of a sales pitch.
“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 says, which sounds awfully ominous.
But that product, if it actually exists, has not been sold to the U.S. government, Motherboard reported. Motherboard also asked The Ulysses Group for comment. It said the following:
Andrew Lewis, president of The Ulysses Group, told Motherboard in an email that “any proprietary promotional material we may have produced is aspirational and developed based on publicly available information about modern telematics equipment.”
“We do not have any contracts with the government or any of its agencies related to our work in the field and we have never received any funding whatsoever from the government related to telematics,” Lewis added.
Two things not cleared up in the Motherboard story: one, what the 15 billion vehicle locations per month means, and two, if this isn’t just the work of a snake oil salesman hoping to get some easy money from someone, “aspirational” and all that.
I don’t know the real story either, but what I do know for sure is that it is safe to assume that in the modern world you can be tracked basically anywhere you go, and if your car’s not doing the tracking then your phone almost certainly is. Which is not in and of itself a bad thing necessarily — navigation systems on modern cars and phones can be awfully convenient — but it’s also easy to imagine more nefarious uses of that data if it falls into the wrong hands.
You can view the full document below: