Consumers Embrace Connected Cars as Lawmakers Raise Fresh Security Concerns

connected cars

Connected vehicles, automobiles equipped with internet connectivity and a range of sensors that enable them to communicate with other vehicles, infrastructure, and external systems, continue to garner significant attention and adoption.

This connectivity promises benefits including enhanced safety, improved traffic management and efficiency. Immersive in-car gaming experiences that seamlessly integrate with the vehicle’s systems are also being explored by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), offering entertainment options both while the vehicle is parked or on the road.

The integration of advanced technologies like generative artificial intelligence (AI) is further transforming in-car voice assistants into personalized, dynamic and interactive road companions, as PYMNTS earlier this year.

For example, German automaker Mercedes-Benz recently unveiled its upgraded MBUX Virtual Assistant, describing it as “the most human-like interface with a Mercedes-Benz yet.” Leveraging generative AI, the virtual assistant helps make interactions more natural and personal, enabling in-car voice assistants to engage in conversations with drivers.

“With its four different emotions — [natural, predictive, personal, and empathetic] — the MBUX Virtual Assistant is in tune with customer needs and uses generative AI and proactive intelligence to make life easy, convenient and comfortable,” the company said in a Jan. 9 press release.

These advancements are evolving in tandem with the integration of payment functionalities into automobiles. Last year, Mercedes-Benz introduced Mercedes pay+, which leverages Visa technology to facilitate seamless in-car payments via a fingerprint sensor integrated within the vehicle.

Prior to that, in September 2021, J.P. Morgan teamed up with another German automaker Volkswagen to acquire about 75% of its Volkswagen Payments S.A. In a discussion with PYMNTS that same month, J.P. Morgan CEO of Merchant Services Max Neukirchen told Karen Webster that the car is “becoming a device” that is connecting consumers to payments.

Connected Car Security Risks

Despite the potential of the fully connected car, which integrates entertainment, navigation, real-time data, diagnostics and notably, payments, its reliance on technology sourced from countries like China has raised red flags among policymakers and security experts.

Just last month, the United States announced a probe into the potential security risks associated with connected vehicles, Reuters reported.

Central to these concerns is the fear that malicious entities could exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or even seize control of the vehicles. The repercussions of such breaches could extend far beyond personal safety, posing threats to national security and critical infrastructure.

The U.S. investigation seeks to evaluate the extent of these risks and determine appropriate measures to mitigate them. This includes assessing the supply chain of connected vehicle components, scrutinizing potential vulnerabilities and evaluating the adequacy of existing safeguards.

The focus on security risks comes alongside other limitations inherent in connected cars, one of which is the lack of interoperability and compatibility across diverse systems and manufacturers.

As the market for connected vehicles expands, demand for standardized protocols and frameworks to facilitate seamless communication and integration is rising — a gap that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is looking to bridge with its ongoing research on connected vehicle standards.

“Interoperability will be more critical than ever before with the implementation of connected vehicle systems and the introduction of automated transportation systems as system interdependencies increase, not only in number but also in complexity,” the agency said in a post on its website.

Moreover, there are concerns surrounding data privacy and ownership in connected cars. With the collection of vast amounts of data, including location information, driving behavior, and personal preferences, questions arise regarding who has access to this data and how it is utilized.

Despite these challenges, the future of connected vehicles remains promising. The potential benefits in terms of safety, efficiency, and convenience continue to drive investments and research in this field. However, addressing security risks, interoperability issues and privacy concerns will be paramount in realizing the full potential of connected vehicles while safeguarding national interests and consumer trust.