Andy Rubin is the guy behind the Android operating system. He co-founded Android Inc, the firm that Google bought in 2005 because it realised it needed a mobile operating system.
The rest is history - Google gave away its operating system, meaning that more than one billion smartphones and tablets snatched it up, and in exchange users around the world shared their data with the search engine giant. Google was very happy.
Rubin left Google in 2014, to set up his own company - Playground. Playground’s purpose is to incubate hardware startups building intelligent machines, and then provide engineering expertise to build the systems necessary to make them work.
So, what kind of “smart” devices is Andy Rubin thinking of? Well, Wired pressed him in an interview to provide some clues:
…he says he is in fact working on a dashcam, which he plans to give away in exchange for its data - potentially allowing Playground to build a real-time visual map of the world.
Hear that noise? It’s the sound of screeching brakes.
As The Verge describes, data collected by dashcams could be immensely valuable:
Dashcams are incredibly popular in Russia — mostly because they’re used to provide evidence of traffic collisions — but they’re not widely used elsewhere. Rubin wants to change that with a dashcam that would be free in exchange for its data. While there’s no set release date, the dream is to potentially build a real-time visual map of the world.
Dashcams could enable real-time traffic status, or even a real-time Street View-like service. Google has done an incredible job of mapping the world through Google Maps, but it’s merely a regularly updated snapshot in time at the moment. A real-time view of the world has many benefits, but Rubin doesn’t address any of the potential privacy issues or legal obstacles in the Wired interview.
Potential privacy issues? Damn right there are privacy issues. How could there not be serious concerns if dashcams that shared everything they see, their location, and the data they collate, with big business?
Just because something can be done, and might have some arguable benefits, doesn’t mean it should be done.
It’s bad enough that Google Street View cars came down our roads and took photographs of our houses without permission (you can have your house’s picture removed, but it’s a pain in the neck) and snooped on our Wi-Fi.
But now there is the prospect, in the relatively near future, that dashboard-mounted cameras that share their footage and data with Andy Rubin’s company will become common.
Of course, you can choose not to have a data-sucking dashcam in your car. But I can’t stop other drivers on the road from having their dashcams pointing at me, collecting data about my car’s location, and streaming megabytes of information up to data centers.
Data centers where I have no control, and it’s unclear how it might be used by multinational organisations, advertisers and law enforcement for their own ends.
Once again our privacy is on the road to hell, bit by bit.