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What do your car keys know about you?

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Not a lot of people know this, as they say. They think the humble car key does little more than open the door and set you on the path from A to B. And protect your car from intruders, of course. The truth is a whole lot more fascinating.

That little accident you had when the airbag activated, but you didn’t want to worry your better half about? Your car key knows about it. That time you exceeded the speed limit to make it home in time for the match? It remembers that too. That secret golfing trip down the country? It has been logged.

Each time you turn the key to start your car (if it’s a newish one), it activates a database that quietly gathers all kinds of information, including behavioural data. So the mechanic working on your car can tell the number of accidents it has been involved in or how hard the car’s been driven. This information isn’t held on a central database, nor is it a part of any Garda record. It is all contained in the car key.

As marketing guru Martin Lindstrom has suggested, “the next generation car key will keep track of your overall driving performance and will then issue an appropriate number of points. These points will undoubtedly play an important role in determining the value of your vehicle when it comes time to sell.” Who knows, in the future, maybe speeding will be fed directly into a Garda database? Now there an incentive to drive carefully.

If it sounds like Big Brother, take comfort – it’s bad news for criminals too. Data contained in key fobs can be used in criminal prosecutions for attempted insurance fraud, for example. Security expert Marc Weber Thomas cites an example: “the owner files a police report that his car was stolen three days ago. He turned over his keys to prove that they were not left in the vehicle or given to the thieves. What the driver did not know was that the memory in the key logs the last time the car was driven and the ending mileage. In this particular case, the information on the keys showed that the car had been driven the day before, which meant it had to be a false claim.”

So beware when you’re at the wheel. There’s always someone watching.

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