The Self-Driving Car Is a Surveillance Tool

Most drivers today can still remember when GPS was provided by a portable device plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter and mounted on the windshield with a suction cup. But soon after the iPhone arrived, GPS (or Sat Nav for U.K. readers) became just another app.

Now, an American geography researcher is arguing that GPS’s transition from dedicated hardware to smartphone software was even more significant than we realize. He says mobile mapping apps also foreshadow the ultimate transformation of car companies from purely “hardware” manufacturers to hybrid hardware, software, and service providers.

With that tectonic shift, he says, will come another shift toward a transportation economy in which the prime commodity is not just the car, but also the driver (his example echoes a larger trend which the sociologist Shoshana Zuboff calls “Surveillance Capitalism”).