Hyundai’s Digital Key is business as usual for surveillance capitalism

The hands-free way to unlock your car further consolidates the single point of failure we carry around

Hyundai cars with Digital Key compatibility also come with two physical keys and the option of a card key that can fit in a wallet. (Unsplash/Sahej Brar)

Technology marches on as the Hyundai Motor Company announced its 2023 Ioniq 6, along with this year’s Kona and Elantra car models will be compatible with the Hyundai Digital Key system. 

People will be able to unlock their car holding their iPhone or Samsung device against the driver-door handle. Inside the car, drivers can place their phone in a wireless charging tray and push the start button to get the car running. 

Users will also be able to share their Digital Key with up to three others from distances across countries. Primary and secondary keyholders can even adjust presets like mirrors, seat positions, heating, AC, music, and so on from their smart devices. It’s a simple, front-end description for what is very likely a more complicated system on the back-end. 

Sci-fi has been predicting for over a century the countless mundane tasks that humanity will one day be able to perform with just a push of a button or switch flick. At this point, are we really going to be surprised that the modern day realization of science fiction fantasies will never live up to the optimistic outlooks that writers had for technological advancements?

Single point of failure — the weak link in any design that leads to catastrophe should it fail — is what smartphones are increasingly becoming in our society. Think about what the average smartphone can do aside from calling, texting, and basic internet browsing. There’s email, streaming, music, photo albums, wallets, shopping, social media, e-banking, and much more. 

Smart devices are our means of communication, commerce, financial management, and recordkeeping. Entire lives are stored in our pockets and bags — countless accounts and personal notes in the palm of our hands. So many vitally important components of life that can be so easily lost or stolen in an instant thanks to poor security management.

Digital Key is an expansion of that single point of failure. Black hat hackers are a wily yet creative bunch who will always find ways to flex their coding muscles by finding and exploiting system flaws. If they wanted to, they could bring the entirety of Digital Key down, locking people out of their cars or leaking private user information. 

Seeing as corporate cybersecurity is not exactly as top-notch as their slick PR and marketing campaigns would suggest, thanks to boardroom apathy and ineptness, the odds of malicious activities causing real damage to users is unfortunately high. 

Corporate culpability does not just stop here, there is also the issue of corporate surveillance and the selling of harvested user data to the state. Digital Key, just like almost any other corporate smart device-linked shortcuts, is a convenience that should be met with rightful suspicion and hesitance. Yet, there is a good chance this system will be adopted more widely within the automotive industry and become a normal option that consumers will not second guess very diligently. 

Surveillance capitalism is expanding once more. Even something as harmless as unlocking a door or adjusting the backrest becomes sinister because of the devil lurking within the technical details. 

The halcyon dreams of the sci-fi optimists do not seem to be thriving in this day and age. Every technological innovation is made with a profit motive leading the way. Convenience and quality of life are just secondary benefits for the marketing department to spin. 

Relying on any corporations or Silicon Valley tycoons to be the leaders of humanity’s future has always been a critical error, a point of failure one could say. Until the next digital revolution comes around, we at least have hands-free car doors now.