The main points
- Today’s cars are equipped with telematics that constantly sends vehicle performance and maintenance data to the manufacturer.
- Your location data will allow companies to advertise to you based on where you live, work or frequently travel.
- Data gathered from voice-command technology could also be useful to advertisers.
- The data on your driving habits could be valuable to insurance companies.
- By controlling our data, carmaker can limit where we get repairs or service done. They decide which service centres receive our information.
Cars produced today are essentially smartphones with wheels. For drivers, this has meant many new features: automatic braking, turn-by-turn directions, infotainment. But for all the things we’re getting out of our connected vehicles, carmakers are getting much, much more: They’re constantly collecting data from our vehicles.
Today’s cars are equipped with telematics, in the form of an always-on wireless transmitter that constantly sends vehicle performance and maintenance data to the manufacturer. Modern cars collect as much as 25 gigabytes of data per hour, the consulting firm McKinsey estimates, and it’s about much more than performance and maintenance.
Cars not only know how much we weigh but also track how much weight we gain. They know how fast we drive, where we live, how many children we have — even financial information. Connect a phone to a car, and it knows who we call and who we text.
But who owns and, ultimately, controls that data? And what are carmakers doing with it?
Today’s connected cars are paving the way for autonomous vehicles and vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and eventually vehicle-to-infrastructure communications making our roads safer.
The issue of ownership is murky. Drivers usually sign away their rights to data in a small-print clause buried in the ownership or lease agreement. It’s not unlike buying a smartphone. The difference is that most consumers have no idea vehicles collect data.
We know our smartphones, Nests and Alexas collect data, and we’ve come to accept an implicit contract: We trade personal information for convenience. With cars, we have no such expectation.
What carmakers are doing with the collected data isn’t clear. We know they use it to improve car performance and safety. And we know they have the ability to sell it to third parties they might choose. Indeed, Ford’s chief executive, Jim Hackett, has spoken in detail about the company’s plans to monetise car data.
Debates around privacy often focus on companies like Facebook. But today’s connected cars — and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles — show how the commercial opportunities in collecting personal data are limitless. Your location data will allow companies to advertise to you based on where you live, work or frequently travel. Data gathered from voice-command technology could also be useful to advertisers.
No opt-out feature
The data on your driving habits — how fast you drive, how hard you brake, whether you always use your seat belt — could be valuable to insurance companies. You may or may not choose to share your data with these services. But while you can turn off location data on your cell phone, there’s no opt-out feature for your car.
Carmakers use data to alert us when something needs repair or when our cars need to be taken in for service. What they don’t tell us is that by controlling our data, they can limit where we get that repair or service done. For almost a century, car and truck owners have been able to take their vehicles to whichever shop they choose and trust for maintenance and repair. That may be changing.
A 2018 Ipsos survey found that 71 per cent of consumers assume vehicle owners already have direct access to their vehicle data. Not so.
Because of the increasing complexity of cars and the internet of Things, data is critical to repair and service. When carmakers control the data, they can choose which service centres receive our information. They’re more likely to share our data exclusively with their branded dealerships than with independent repair shops, which could have the edge in price and convenience.
This is a different facet of the privacy conversation. Our anxiety about data typically focuses on what happens when information is shared with those we don’t want to see it. But what about when information is withheld from those we do want to see it?
Imagine visiting a medical specialist and learning he can’t get access to the medical history that your doctor maintains, or having a financial adviser acknowledge that neither of you can see your accounts unless you pay a fee. It’s alarmingly easy to imagine carmakers charging fees to independent repair shops that need access to vehicle data to service a vehicle purchased for tens of thousands of dollars. That fee will lead to vehicle owners paying higher repair prices just so that technicians can obtain the data.
The solution is simple. The only person who should control car data is the car owner (or lessee). He or she should be aware of the data the car transmits, have control over it and determine who can see it.
The idea that drivers don’t control their own data flies in the face of what consumers want and expect. A 2018 Ipsos survey found that 71 per cent of consumers assume vehicle owners already have direct access to their vehicle data. Not so. Nearly 90 per cent of consumers believe vehicle owners should control who can see their vehicle’s data. Currently they don’t.
Digitisation of the auto industry is, ultimately, a good thing. Today’s connected cars are paving the way for autonomous vehicles and vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and eventually vehicle-to-infrastructure communications making our roads safer. But unlike Alexa and Nest, consumers are unaware of the degree to which their own car collects and processes data.
It’s clear, because of its value — as high as $750 billion (Dh2.7 trillion) by 2030 — carmakers have no incentive to release control of the data collected from our vehicles. Policymakers, however, have the opportunity to give drivers control — not just so that they can keep their data private but also so that they can share it with the people they want to see it. This will let car owners maintain what they’ve had for a century: the right to decide who fixes their car.
— Bill Hanvey is president and chief executive officer of the Auto Care Association.