Motorists worry about security of connected cars

Joseph Szczesny, CNBC contributor

Despite being used in a growing number of vehicles, new technology in connected automobiles is making a large number of Americans nervous about whether they could be hacked and have data stolen, according to a new survey.

Research from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that although 86 percent of motorists are interested in having connected-vehicle technology, 30 percent said they are "very concerned" about the potential for breaches in vehicle security.

They also worry about data privacy, as the technology could allow the tracking of vehicle speed and location, the survey found.

A connected car tile is seen during the press day of the 84th International Motor Show which will showcase novelties of the car industry on March 5, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Getty Images

Another 37 percent of the respondents said they are "moderately concerned" about the same issues, and nearly a quarter are "slightly concerned." The online survey polled 1,600 motorists in the U.S., Australia and the U.K.

The results echo many of the comments by Daimler shareholders during the company's annual meeting in Berlin earlier this week. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the company's board of management and head of the Mercedes-Benz car group, told shareholders that Daimler was acutely aware of the problems related to data theft—but he insisted the company is taking every step it can to protect the privacy of its customers everywhere in the world.

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Daimler's answer to the threat included a heavy investment in a security system and protection, he said.

Other automakers, such Ford Motor, have also said they are actively working on protecting the privacy of any motorist using its vehicles. Ford came under intense scrutiny several months back, after its global marketing chief, Jim Farley, said during a speech at the annual Consumer Electronics Show that Ford's technology can collect and store a broad array of data about its customers.

Independent studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation have also indicated that automobiles are susceptible to hacking. The problem could grow more serious as manufacturers add more capabilities to their cars—including the ability to reprogram engine control systems to correct software problems.

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Meanwhile, a growing number of makers, including General Motors and Hyundai, now offer remote start and remote door unlocking features, which could become the target of hackers.

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The UMTRI study said that in addition to security and privacy fears, a majority of the respondents also expressed concern about system failure and performance, especially during bad weather. They were also worried that drivers would rely too much on the technology or would be distracted by it.

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Despite these concerns, about three-fourths of respondents said that connected vehicles will reduce the number and severity of crashes, improve emergency response times and result in better fuel economy. More than 60 percent expect less traffic congestion, shorter travel times and lower vehicle emissions.

The researchers also found that 62 percent of the survey participants have a positive opinion about connected vehicles, while about a third are neutral.

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More than 80 percent of respondents in all three countries indicated that safety is the most important aspect of connected-vehicle technology, compared to mobility and environment. And roughly 80 percent said that integrating personal communication devices with vehicle technology is at least somewhat important.

Americans tend to have a lower overall opinion of connected vehicles, with 57 percent saying they were positive about the technology, and 7 percent negative. This compares to Britons, who were 67 percent positive, and only 4 percent negative, and Australians, who were 63 percent positive and 5 percent negative.