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Volkswagen: Big Data Doesn't Have to Mean Big Brother

The comments came at the start of CeBit, where data protection concerns are likely to loom large in the wake of the NSA revelations.


Given the vast amounts of data that will be collected by the cars of the future, strict protections are needed to prevent government intrusion, the chairman of Volkswagen Group said on Sunday.

“The car must not become a data monster,” Martin Winterkorn said, at the start of the CeBit trade show in Germany. Car makers already protect drivers from hydroplaning, fatigue and traffic. They must also protect against government misuse of data, he said.

“I clearly say yes to Big Data, yes to greater security and convenience, but no to paternalism and Big Brother,” Winterkorn said, according to an English translation of his prepared remarks. He called for a voluntary commitment from the car industry to protect customer data and said his company stands ready to join such an effort.

The data protection concerns voiced by Winterkorn were echoed by government and industry speakers at the lavish opening ceremonies for CeBit, an event that also featured German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Merkel called on international efforts to ensure data is protected.

“We are only at the beginning of that road,” she said. “National policies will not suffice.”

Privacy issues are likely to loom large at CeBit, which takes place in Germany, one of the most privacy-concerned countries in the world.

The massive German technology trade show has narrowed its focus in recent years to center around business technology. As a result it has managed to keep some of the big-name exhibitors, including Microsoft, that have pulled out of more consumer-oriented events, such as CES.

Volkswagen also used the start of CeBit to debut “James 2025,” its vision for what the inside of a self-driving car might look like. A concept car front was ushered onto the stage, showing how the steering wheel and controls could change appearance as autonomous driving is engaged, complete with alerts as to planned maneuvers.

Automated driving has made its way from the pages of science fiction to near-reality, Winterkorn said. Technology that used to fill a trunk has been reduced to something far more manageable, he said, holding up a circuit board not much larger than one from a large PC or workstation.

Winterkorn reassured the car-loving German audience that drivers will retain control, but that autonomous vehicles can play a big role when driving is less than pleasurable, such as when stuck in traffic or looking for parking.

He also called on the auto and tech industries to collaborate more closely. IBM and Google shouldn’t be making car engines and bodies, just as car companies shouldn’t be making computers, Winterkorn said. Rather, computer giants and automakers need to work together on the technical, logistical and regulatory challenges ahead.

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