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Why EV drivers should worry about Big Brother

TOKYO -- Imagine an Orwellian future where faceless international corporations track your every move. Drop by the bar after work, call in sick to go to the beach, visit your mistress’ house.

The all-seeing eye of Big Brother knows where you’ve been.

Call it the downside of the electric vehicle utopia promised by today’s automakers. Under this vision, electric cars of tomorrow won’t simply run on batteries and recharge in your garage.

They will be plugged into the local electricity grid and be continuously connected through the wireless Internet to data centers monitoring the car’s location, battery charge and driving range.

The intention is virtuous enough.

By using such advanced telematics, drivers can locate nearby charging stations, know how far they can drive before draining the battery, monitor traffic to take less crowded routes, assess their driving habits to improve mileage and compare their mileage with that of other electric car drivers.

Owners can hook the car up to “smart house” grids in which the entire home’s energy usage is monitored and managed for efficiency.

Nissan Motor Co., which will launch its Leaf electric vehicle next month in the United States, is touting its own version of this communication system. It says that its CarWings telematics system will “retain historical driving, charging and electricity consumption information globally.”

Toyota envisions a similar scenario with so-called “smart homes” connected to plug-in hybrids. This system would not only monitor driving but also home energy habits.

The companies promise to collect such personal data only with the customers’ consent. And they pledge to keep it confidential. But securing this wealth of private information will be a key trust issue in promoting a future that makes the most of electric vehicles’ potential.

Imagine the potential for summoning such records in lawsuits.

If personal privacy is botched, electric vehicles could end up more like tracking devices

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