This week the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) announced $440,000 in funding for nine new privacy research projects that will explore emerging and evolving privacy issues. The OPC’s choice of projects telegraphs its areas of interest and can signal future areas of increased activity for the OPC. The resulting research reports often set benchmark privacy expectations for  these emerging or evolving technologies, and businesses which use these technologies (or are thinking about using these technologies) should consider how future reports and recommendations may impact them.

Car “Infotainment” Systems

Of particular note is a project titled Paving the Way for Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS): The Privacy Implications of Vehicular Infotainment Platforms, which will “study and assess the privacy implications of car infotainment systems”. The project involves tracking personal information as it passes through a typical infotainment system, and states that logs will be analyzed “in order to determine driver usage patterns and identify possible secondary uses of the information, as well as strategies that consumers might employ to safeguard their privacy while driving.”

This comes hot on the heels of last year’s similarly-funded Connected Car: Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?  report, released last month, which looked at vehicle telematics and ultimately called for sector-specific regulation (see our analysis of this report here). Automakers and those providing vehicle infotainment services will want to pay close attention the direction of this project and consider the potential impact on their industry.

Fitness Trackers

Fitness tracking devices are also in the OPC’s sights, and a project to compare fitness tracker privacy and security  (not surprisingly called Comparative Analysis of Fitness Tracker Privacy and Security) received funding, with a stated goal of producing “an online “device guide” that will make it simple for individuals to compare various fitness trackers and file personal information requests with their fitness tracking device companies.” The device guide itself will likely have an impact not only on consumer awareness of the information handling practices of these devices, but may impact consumer choice of such devices. The evaluation of the various privacy and security aspects of fitness trackers will also impact the larger universe of wearables and connected personal devices.

Children, Open Data, Lawful Access and Other Topics

Children were also a focus of the OPC, with one project aimed developing a web resource for children ages 12‐14 to enable them to better understand online terms of use and privacy policies and another project aimed at to improving children’s understanding of mobile online privacy.

Other projects will produce a report card evaluating the bona fides of the Certificate Authorities that issue certificates to “secure” websites, develop an app for detecting account compromise in social networking sites, explore relationships between government signals intelligence authorities and private sector telecommunications companies over access to and sharing of metadata and private communications in light of the Snowden revelations, and produce a radio series on privacy. The final project aims to survey government open data portals and their exploitation by commercial private sector data analytic firms, and evaluate the extent to which private sector actors are combining open datasets with other datasets with consequent risk of “re-identifying” individuals.