Shan Junhua, in Shanghai, told the AP he had no idea the government could track his car’s location
Photo: Ng Han Guan (AP)

This’ll surely give anyone concerned about privacy the creeps. More than 200 manufacturers—including Volkswagen, Ford, General Motors, BMW, and Tesla—submit precise locations of vehicles to the Chinese government, according to an eye-popping story from the Associated Press.

Under a set of local laws in place for alternative energy vehicles, automakers are required to “constantly” send position information and “dozens of other data points to government-backed monitoring centers,” the AP reported.

And car owners, it appears, have no idea most of the time that it’s even happening.

Per the AP:

More than 200 manufacturers, including Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Mitsubishi and U.S.-listed electric vehicle start-up NIO, transmit position information and dozens of other data points to government-backed monitoring centers, The Associated Press has found. Generally, it happens without car owners’ knowledge.

The automakers say they are merely complying with local laws, which apply only to alternative energy vehicles. Chinese officials say the data is used for analytics to improve public safety, facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning, and to prevent fraud in subsidy programs.

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The obvious next point is that other major markets—like, in the U.S., Japan, and Europe—don’t do this sort of thing, raising a whole bunch of concerns that China’s leveraging this data to keep tabs on the country’s population. China has pursued an increasingly intense war on any kind of dissent, the AP notes, and recently launched a controversial “social credit” system that has barred millions from booking a flight.

The AP story offers some fascinating insight into how the EV tracking policies came into fruition, and shows how easy cars can be tracked.

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For example:

Click a dot at random, and up pops a window with a number that identifies each individual vehicle, along with its make and model, mileage and battery charge.

The official response has been very clearly trying to tone down any sense of worry, highlighting that personal information isn’t just out there in the open. You have to make a formal request:

Ding [Xiaohua, deputy director of the Shanghai Electric Vehicle Public Data Collecting, Monitoring and Research Center] insisted that the electric vehicle monitoring program is not designed to facilitate state surveillance, though he said data could be shared with government public security organs, if a formal request is made. The center said it has not shared information with police, prosecutors or courts, but has used the data to assist a government investigation of a vehicle fire.ďťż

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EVs in China are no small matter. China’s the worlds biggest car market by a good margin, and the government is pushing EVs hard enough that four foreign car companies will be rebadging a domestic crossover just to meet new restrictions.

I think it goes without saying that, man, this is terrifying.