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Digital license plates: The point being?

Europe has a new digital privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Prior to the digital age you might not have cared too much about this, but the internet means we are a global community. Hence, U.S. consumers tapped into the web through smartphones and other network-connected devices have recently received scads of notices from American companies about updates to their privacy terms. And let's not forget Facebook and apparent data privacy issues.

Electronics are a fact of life whether you live in Pennsylvania or another part of the country. And while proponents of the technological revolution tout the trend in terms of convenience and connected coolness, there's growing research suggesting that electronic gadgets are a greater source of hazard by distraction than help.

There is also legitimate concern over privacy. There are already a great many cars on the road with electronics that allow some level of vehicle tracking. As these units are traded in and resold by dealers, how many are done so under as-is clauses? As a consumer, how can you protect your rights regarding vehicle safety, and now personal privacy?

What prompts this examination of electronics is news about the digitizing of the license plate. California is set to become the first state allowing them on the road. Things are in the pilot stages now.

The so-called Rplate is described as a tablet with a Kindle-like display. It attaches to the rear end of vehicles. The current price tag for one is $699. That doesn't include the $7 monthly service charge.

Advocates say the big plus of the plate is the automation of vehicle registration and renewals. The process is all handled online. No need for replacing annual stickers. They also tout that the plate can be tracked in the event of theft.

Skeptical observers note that online registration and payment is already common in many states, with the sticker issue being a minor annoyance at best. They also note that if the plate is ripped off the vehicle by a thief, the tracker will only get police to the discarded device.

The more general question this development seems to raise is whether this represents a point of electronics excess.

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