Beijing’s Censorship Regime Now Apparently Demands US Electric Vehicle Makers to Share User Data

Tesla China

Over the past few years, China has been tightening its grip on internet usage under a new cybersecurity law. The new law requires VPNs to be registered with a local telecom agency for them to work in the country and tech companies to store data locally to be able to offer their services and products to users in China. It appears Tesla is the latest company to face some heat as consumers have started to realize that the automaker has been sending information about the precise location of their vehicles to the Chinese government.

Tesla is not, however, the only company sharing data

An extensive report by the Associated Press reveals that China has called upon all electric vehicle manufacturers to "make the same kind of reports - potentially adding to the rich kit of surveillance tools available to the Chinese government as President Xi Jinping steps up the use of technology to track Chinese citizens."

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The concern right now is how these companies are revealing consumer data without even informing their userbase. AP report adds:

More than 200 manufacturers, including Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Mitsubishi and U.S.-listed electric vehicle start-up NIO, transmit position information and dozens of other data points to government-backed monitoring centers, The Associated Press has found. Generally, it happens without car owners’ knowledge.

The automakers simply use the tried and tested excuse of having to "comply with local laws." As for the Chinese government, the officials say they are only asking for this data to "improve public safety, facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning, and to prevent fraud in subsidy programs."

While data sharing is usually allowed between automakers, insurance companies and governments for safety controls or for criminal invesitgations, researchers believe that China is going too far to ask for "data as it flows from cars."

However, it is no secret that the governments around the world are looking for ways to constantly monitor citizens through their phones, Internet-connected devices, and apparently their vehicles too. "The government wants to know what people are up to at all times and react in the quickest way possible,” Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch told AP.

“There is zero protection against state surveillance.”

While Tesla hasn't yet commented on this story, Nissan said that the company is "extremely committed to the Chinese market" and considers it as a market with the "greatest opportunity to grow."

But this opportunity doesn't come without working with the local government and complying with local laws. As seen in the last two years, even the most vocal privacy-centric companies like Apple have had to bow down to the Chinese government, infringing on the privacy rights of local citizens. As activists had warned at the time, one major US company complying with draconian laws will only set precedent for others to follow and it appears major electric vehicle manufacturers are all ready to enable China to further tighten its control over local internet access.

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