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Given the lively discussion we had the last time I posted about automated vehicles, I thought it a worthy topic to continue. 

Over on CityLab is a fascinating article by Judith Donath about how transportation could end up being subsidized by people who want to move you to a given spot. The idea is that, like Facebook, we become the product and the automated vehicles become the method. So where we go could be dependent on who pays for the ride. That is, you may ask for a ride that takes you to Fenway Park, but if it’s paid for by a real estate agent, it may first drive you slowly past a home that’s for sale. Or, the free ride may only be available to those who pre-qualify for a mortgage.

This paragraph makes this future seem downright dystopian: 

Autonomous cars will be part of an ecosystem of intelligent agents and personal-data vendors. The information they are able to base your route on—and how they present an itinerary to you—will not be limited to where you say you want to go, but on all the data they have about you. Note that companies with immense personal-data collections, including AmazonBaiduGoogle, and Uber, are in the race to develop autonomous cars. (Uber has recently launched UberEats, a delivery service that collects data about customer habits for participating restaurants.) The same system that one day provides your ride may have access to, if not control over, your calendar, contacts, medical records, and holiday shopping lists.

The vision here isn’t all that far-fetched given how some of our most popular Internet sites operate today, in that we get things for “free” and often don’t fully understand the true costs. Just think about how many sites exist not just to attract us, but to collect and sell our information. 

I still cling to the belief that the streets belong to us, the citizens of the city, and it’s up to us to make sure they’re used appropriately. For argument’s sake, let’s assume this version of the future is true. Are we comfortable with advertisers using the streets without paying for them? How would we want the city compensated? Will consumers tolerate municipal intervention or will “free” prevail?