The Internet of things. Maybe that’s not a phrase you’re familiar with, but you’re likely very familiar with what it describes. Your phone, your television, any smart device at all- all these things are networked together to empower and convenience you in the Internet of things.
And coming soon: your car.
Most drivers already know that if their car is on, its collecting data. Maintenance issues, mileage, even panic braking or exceeding the speed limit, may be noted and remembered by your vehicle’s “brain.” In its most basic application, this data collection is how your car lets you know with a light on the dashboard that the air pressure in your tires is low or how many miles you have left until you’re out of gas.
But before long, that data collection won’t be staying local. In fact, it’s already happening. And by the year 2022, you’ll be hard pressed to find a new car that isn’t transmitting your data, wirelessly, to the people who built your car. By 2030, according to a recent article in Consumer Reports, the automotive data industry will be a $450 billion to $750 billion industry.
Why does it matter? Let’s look at all the good that data can do. From up-to-the-second, hyper accurate maps of roads and highways across the country and expedited emergency services on those roads, to onboard entertainment and the ability to pay for gas without having to swipe your card at the pump, car connectivity has the potential to make the motorist experience more comfortable, convenient and safe. What’s more, the road to a driverless car revolution will necessarily be paved with automotive data.
Meanwhile, privacy advocates warn of the potential downside. Could insurance companies use this data to justify raising premiums or denying claims? Could law enforcement use it as an end-around to the requirement for a warrant for certain types of surveillance? Could an ex-spouse use it to track the movements of their former wife or husband in a car they purchased together before they split?
In 2014, 20 major automakers signed-on to a pledge to uphold privacy principles regarding driver data. They agreed to tell customers voluntarily how their information is collected and used, and to forego using that data as a marketing tool.
None-the-less, independent repair shops are raising red flags. Today in California, you have a lot of flexibility in choosing a Bureau of Automotive Repair licensed mechanic to get your car fixed. Maybe you prefer to take your car back to the dealer for service. Maybe you prefer an independent mechanic. Either one will plug into the car’s data collection system and gather information they need to diagnose and repair a problem. But once instantaneous, wireless communications become the standard, it could lead to a manufacturer monopoly on driver data, and some independents fear they may be squeezed-out, without direct access to all the useful information.
The backdrop to this evolving technological landscape is an evolving legal one. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), set to go into effect on January 1, is designed to expand the control consumers have over their data. The specifics are still being hammered-out, with stakeholders from insurance companies to auto manufacturers to privacy advocates all lobbying over the specific language in the CCPA regarding automotive data.