China is collecting real-time location data from alternative fuel vehicles

The Chinese government is collecting real-time vehicle location data, and more from so-called “new energy vehicles,” often without the owner’s knowledge.

Tim Graham/Techhnews

It’s not exactly a secret that China likes to keep tabs on its citizens, whether that’s through its social credit rating system or more traditional forms of domestic surveillance. According to a report yesterday by the Associated Press, the Chinese government is mandating that manufacturers of alternative energy vehicles provide it with location information on their cars, which the AP says often happens without the drivers’ knowledge.

The Chinese government says that the data is being used for public safety, infrastructure improvements and to make sure that alternative fuel vehicle subsidies aren’t being abused, but critics of the program maintain that the types and amounts of data being collected go beyond what the government would need to achieve those goals.

“You’re learning a lot about people’s day-to-day activities, and that becomes part of what I call ubiquitous surveillance, where pretty much everything that you do is being recorded and saved and potentially can be used in order to affect your life and your freedom,” Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, told the AP.

This isn’t China’s first rodeo when it comes to vehicle tracking. Previous initiatives have included mandating that residents in certain regions must install GPS devices in their vehicles so that they can be tracked, as well as pushing citizens to affix RFID stickers to the windshields of their cars that can be scanned at certain points around a city. 

The main difference with this current program is that it’s relying on the data coming directly from vehicle manufacturers. In the US, the government would need a court order to obtain this information, but because of the economic benefits of being allowed to participate in China’s exploding car market, manufacturers are complying.

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