Auto Makers Must Disclose ‘Black Boxes’

It might give you a warm and fuzzy feeling to think that your car cares about you, remembers little things, and generally keeps tabs on you. Out of a sense of attachment, even fondness.

But that’s not quite how it works. About two thirds of vehicles sold today include so-called “black box” technology—more properly, Event Data Recorders—which stores recent data about the vehicle’s speed, braking, air bag deployment, engine speed, and/or other actions and conditions. These data can be useful to law enforcement, emergency responders, safety regulators, and auto makers, giving them precise mechanical data about a car’s operating state in the seconds leading up to a crash, failure, or other event. Some have argued that recorders ought to be mandatory equipment in all new cars. However, privacy experts have levied criticism at the recorders, arguing consumer rights are not adequately protected, and the data recorded in the systems could easily be abused or manipulated by law enforcement, insurance companies, in legal proceedings, and in other instances.

In an announcement Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has declined to make the recording devices mandatory, but has ruled that automakers must disclose the presence of data recording technology in new vehicles to consumers. The ruling also standardizes the data all manufacturers will be required to collect in the data recorders.

How are auto companies required to disclose this information? Putting a note in the owners’ manual.

Privacy advocates argue the ruling basically sidesteps privacy concerns about the data recorders, arguing a notice in little-used owners manuals does not amount to adequate disclosure, and in no way prevents the information from being misused once downloaded from a recorder. The auto industry and the NHTSA, conversely, maintains that the data is private and cannot be be downloaded without permission of the vehicle owner (although, refusing to permit download may be seen as an implicit admission of guilt, much like refusing alcohol breath analysis), and that the proper place to address privacy concerns is actually in the courts and Congress, not with the NTSA.

The new rule is scheduled to go into effect for vehicles produced for the 2011 model year.


Audi’s traffic light information system shows the challenges facing V2X tech

Audi’s traffic light information system is among the first commercial applications of potentially game-changing V2X tech. So how does it work in the real world? We spent a few days getting stuck at red lights to find out.

Volvo wants to use speed limiters, in-car cameras, and data to reduce crashes

Volvo believes new tech is the best way to improve car safety. The Swedish automaker will let owners set speed limits when loaning out their cars, install cameras to monitor drivers, and use data to design better safety features.

Shift it yourself: How to drive stick in a manual transmission car

Driving a manual transmission car might seem intimidating at first, but it's not as difficult as you might think. Knowing how to operate this type of gearbox will serve you well. Here's everything you need to know to learn how to drive…

Automakers are spending billions on self-driving technology people are afraid of

Automakers are spending billions of dollars on developing the technology that will power self-driving cars, but research shows consumers have no interest in giving up control. Will they ever recoup their investment?
Smart Home

Traeger’s latest wood-pellet grills are smoky, smart, and spacious

Traeger is famous in the world of barbecue and heavy-duty grills for its signature pellet grills and now the company is expanding this year by adding three new brands of redesigned
Smart Home

The five best teeth-whitening kits you can buy on Amazon

Teeth whitening can have a major impact on a person’s smile and overall appearance. You don't necessarily have to go to the dentist to get your teeth whitened though. Here are the best teeth-whitening kits you can buy.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

Is your Keurig making gross coffee? Might be time for a cleaning

No one likes a dirty, scaled, or smelly Keurig, but how are you supposed to clean them? Before you throw yours out the window, here is a quick guide on cleaning your machine out thoroughly.
Smart Home

Which is better, the original Echo or the Echo Dot? We compare them

Amazon Echo vs. Dot: Having Alexa answer your questions is nothing short of futuristic, but which device should you get? There are some big differences between the two, especially in size, sound, and cost.
Product Review

Gate’s Smart Lock is locked and loaded but ultimately lacks important basics

In a world of video cameras and doorbells comes the Gate Smart Lock, a lock with a video camera embedded. It’s a great idea, but lacks some crucial functionality to make it a top-notch product.
Smart Home

Viral porch pirate videos freak people out, cause unrealistic concern

Viral porch pirate videos convince others crime is more prevalent than facts indicate. According to polls, even though FBI reports show property crime rates are at historic lows, more people worry about crime today than ever before.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.

Amazon slashes $77 off the iRobot Roomba 690 multisurface robot vacuum

This special offer comes just in time for you to get a head start on spring cleaning. The Roomba 690 robot vacuum sucks up dust, dirt and pet hair — all while you're away at the office.
Smart Home

Get sweaty with the best smart home fitness gadgets on the market

Are you looking for smart fitness devices that will really help your workouts, no matter where you like to exercise? These smart home gadgets are designed to help you analyze your workouts and keep track of how you are doing.