Tesla provides data on its cars to the Chinese Governmnet. Wikimedia Commons
Electric car owners in China unknowingly had information about their location and car usage shared with the government, according to Associated Press reports.
Electric car manufacturers must comply with local laws that require them to send information about their vehicles to relevant government authorities. This group of car companies includes popular names like Tesla, Nissan, General Motors, and Mitsubishi among others, according to the AP.
Tesla declined on the data collection of its vehicles, media reported.
The Chinese government said they use the data to help improve road safety and monitor the correct use of car ownership incentive schemes. Over 200 manufacturers have provided data without car owner's knowledge.
However, others argue it's an invasion of privacy.
Government-funded company collects data from EV companies
The Shanghai Electric Vehicle Public Data Collecting, Monitoring, and Research Center collects real-time data from car companies about electric cars.
Over time, they've created a huge database of information about car owners including where, how and when they travel.
According to a document published in 2016, electric vehicles in China transmit data from the car’s sensors back to the manufacturer. From there, automakers who wish must send back at least 61 data points, including location and details about the battery and engine function to local data centers like the Shanghai Electric Vehicle Public Data Collecting, Monitoring, and Research Center.
China and the push for electric vehicles
While the center is technically a non-profit, it's closely aligned to and funded by the federal government. The data collected is also expected to increase thanks to the ambitious plan by the Chinese government for electric cars to make up at least 20 percent of all new car sales by 2025.
China is determined to become more energy self-sufficient and part of that push means all Chinese automakers must meet minimums for new energy vehicles. More electric cars on the roads mean more data for authorities.
No regulations against surveillance
There is no regulation in China to stop the government from tracking vehicles. Despite most electric vehicles owners being unaware their data is being sent to the government, other public programs have made the government's intentions clear. Last year in Xinjiang (western China) residents had to install GPS trackers on their car as part of a test laboratory for surveillance procedures.
Another pilot surveillance program allowed the Ministry of Public Security test out a system of tracking vehicles using windshield radio frequency chips that can identify cars as they pass roadside reading devices.
Foreign companies that want to sell vehicles in China are strongarmed to agreeing to hand over the data to ensure they are eligible for incentives. Fears are high that the next generation of cars which are likely to transmit even more personal information will provide even more leverage for government authorities.