Who Owns the Data Your Car Has About You?

Date Entry
May 28, 2019

Take a look at just about any new car these days and it'll be filled with tech - lane departure warning systems, cameras everywhere, and even self-driving cars.  But new concern is developing about the infotainment systems now found in cars, their integration with owners' mobile phones, and what happens with the data generated.

In many cases, cars are in constant contact with the manufacturer's home base by way of telematics - always on wireless transmitters.  In theory, this data consists of performance and maintenance data to help engineers know how their product is used and performs, but more and more evidence is showing that new vehicles are collecting much more.  They know when we gain weight, where we work, the size of our families, our incomes, and so on.  From a marketing standpoint, this data is gold.  From a consumer standpoint, this is troubling.  Throw a mobile phone into the mix via Bluetooth and now the car knows who we communicate with, what music we listen to, and more.

So who owns this data?  Us, the creators of the information, or them, the collectors of that information?  The answer is not clear, and at this time it appears that we sign away the rights to own this information before we drive off the lot.

The flip side to the concern about our data being shared with those we don't want to have it is what happens when we want the data but aren't allowed access to it?  This is the case at the mechanic - more and more vehicle computers are being locked down so that repairs can only be performed at factory shops or by independent shops who've payed for a software license to access data from a single make of car.  Today, mechanics can simply connect misbehaving cars to diagnostic tools to get a readout of error codes, which can direct their diagnostic workflow.  That may not be the case in future years, making repairs more expensive and making business more difficult for smaller shops.  This could make simple at-home repairs by shade tree mechanics just about impossible.

This circles back to the gray area of who owns in-car data...and ultimately that choice should be left to the owner of the vehicle.  Many of the mobile apps we use as well as mobile operating systems offer some degree of data privacy customization...why can't our cars?

This article was based on a May 20, 2019 New York Times article by Bill Hanvey

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