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Volkswagen first used a mini-computer in a car to control the fuel injection system in 1968.  Since then more computers have been added, then the ability for the computers to “talk” to one another, so that now we are essentially driving a computer system on wheels.


With the recent addition of wireless communications ability manufacturers are now collecting data from your late model car.  What data, you say?  Some estimates suggest that a car can generate up to 4,000 gigabytes of data per day, everything from the speeds you drive and where you go to the contact list downloaded from your cell phone.  The consulting firm McKinsey has estimated that by 2030 this data trove could be worth as much as $750 billion to car makers.


Consumer groups, aftermarket repair shops and privacy advocates say the data belongs to the car’s owners and the information should be subject to data privacy laws.  The European Union agrees, having already ruled that data generated by cars belongs to their owners and is subject to privacy rules.  There have been discussions by our government but the U. S. Congress has yet to act.

California has passed a data privacy law that will go into effect in 2020, and which will likely be a model for the rest of the country.  The California law includes household data collected by utilities and gives consumers the right to obtain the data collected on them, stop sales of the data to third parties and to ask that their info be deleted.

The Auto Alliance, a trade group of the world’s largest auto makers, has appealed to the State’s attorney general attempting to get the bill watered down before it goes into effect.  They want to provide summary information as opposed to detailed info and are also fighting against the opt out on data to third parties, claiming that could affect consumer safety since emergency and roadside services are frequently provided by third parties.


A trade group representing independent shops says their members could be prevented from doing maintenance work if they can’t access the data.  Currently, independent shops access car performance data under a 2014 memorandum of understanding between the independent shops and car makers.  This came after a Massachusetts law was passed guarantying independent shops the same access as dealerships.

That access is currently facilitated by a hard wired diagnostic connector located under the dashboard of the car into which a technician will plug an analytic tool.  But most later model cars also have wireless capability that transmits data to the manufacturer.  Consumer Reports magazine estimates that 32 of 44 brands (72%) of 2018 models have some sort of wireless data connection and it’s estimated that by 2030 nearly all cars on the road will have wireless data transmission capability.

Independent shops currently handle maintenance for 75% of cars on the road and shop owners feel that manufacturers will, at some point, want to eliminate the now redundant data connector.  This will mean new secure wireless equipment for independent shops and potentially, new fees for access, costs which will be passed on to car owners. 

Auto Alliance, the manufacturers group, says that car owners will always be able to choose who services their cars and manufacturers will continue to provide independent shops with the data they need.


Automakers say they abide by a voluntary set of guidelines adopted 5 years ago that provides car owners with notice and choice on what info is being collected and how it’s used, minimizes data retention and provides reasonable security measures to safeguard data.  Privacy and consumer advocates question how well these principles are being applied and whether they are adequate for the current state of the technology.

For example, the automaker’s guidelines do not address how they handle data requests from law enforcement.  Consumers are rightly concerned that car companies could share data with police agencies without their knowledge, pointing to ancestry registries who have shared DNA information with investigators.

So, is your car watching you???

Posted by Allen L Phillips with help from an article by Gopal Ratnam posted on Roll Call.



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