Privacy Debate: High Tech Cars, Tracking, Info Sharing

John Lister's picture

Politicians in California are to consider a proposed law that would give drivers more control over what happens to data gathered in their high-tech cars. It's prompted a heated debate between driver clubs and automobile manufacturers.

According to senator Bill Monning, around one in five new cars are designed to automatically send data to manufacturers. That proportion is expected to grow rapidly in the next 10 years as more cars integrate mobile technology and rely heavily on electronic control systems. (Source:

The type of data collected varies widely. In some cases it's performance issues such as how long it takes engines to develop faults and under what circumstances. In other cases, its more personal information such as cellphone use or exactly where people have driven.

Car Data Sharing A Privacy Issue

Although manufacturers say that buyers are already always told how this data will be used and shared, supporters of the bill dispute that fact. Often, such details are buried in small print. It's argued that drivers don't always know whether the manufacturer will pass the data on to other organizations, such as marketing firms.

The law would mean all car buyers have the right to know exactly what data is gathered and sent to auto makers. It would also mean drivers have the right to access the information themselves and to pass it on to third parties of their choosing, such as servicing centers.

While Monning is the official author of the bill, two non-profit auto clubs in the state have developed most of the proposals. They say it would benefit consumers because it would give them more options for shopping around to get servicing work.

At the moment that can be difficult, because only servicers authorized by the manufacturer can access the data.

In the case of a college history professor from Santa Monica, the latter point was underscored when he took his Prius to his preferred repair shop. The car's check engine light was on, but the mechanic was unable to gain access to the engine performance data unless he paid a hefty $135 fee to the manufacturer, Toyota.

Auto Makers Say Insurers Will Misuse Car Data

Major automakers denounce the bill, citing that it is nothing more than an "AAA insurance data grab." They claim that the state's two non-profit auto clubs are in fact run by large insurance companies, merely acting as a front.

They say it's a trick to allow insurers to get hold of driving data and penalize customers who drive at high speeds, spend a lot of time on highways, or show signs of driving dangerously such as excessive braking. (Source:

Monning says that is not the case. He notes that the bill specifically preserves existing rules which say that the only car data insurers can use to determine annual rates is the mileage used on the car.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you believe it is your right to have access to your car's data, and share it with third parties of your choosing? Are you concerned about how your car's data is used by third-parties with or without your consent? Do you think there's a risk that such data could lead to insurance premium hikes? Lastly, are you bothered that some cars are able to track and record data about you, including driving habits and where you've been?

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rmstabin's picture

As the article notes, the only information an insurance company or car dealer should have access to is the mileage.
I should be able to take my car to the station of my choice for repair or servicing. And that service station should have access to the data that the car is capable of keeping. Where I've been is my business only. My speed is a matter between me and the highway patrol. The car should not have the capability of transmitting data on an ongoing basis to third parties.
I like your new format very much. Terrific improvement over the white on green of the previous version. Also the added features. Thanks.

dlanthony's picture

Where I go and what I do is my business ONLY!
How I drive and where is of no one's concern except the Officer if I get caught speeding.
The insurance companies have NO RIGHT what-so-ever to that kind of data.
The ONLY thing an insurer should get is how many points do I have.
They already get to much information: Do I buckle up? Do I this? Do I that? Do I have this? Do I have that?
Give me a car that has an Engine, Transmission, Air and a darn good radio and goes down the road great and I'll be happy!

flyfishers's picture

It's none of any dealers business where i drive my vehicle. The data should not be sent to anyone and the only ones that should have access to it is my mechanic and only if it's relevant to the maintenance of the said vehicle period !!!

kb4169's picture

It seems to me the data generated by automobiles belongs to the owner of that auto. He/She should have the sole right as to who the data is shared with, not the manufacturer. The auto owner should, also, have the right to "opt out" if they so choose.

Thinking Human's picture

Take the Tracking, Spying and self incriminating recording devices Out of my vehicles.
I Do Not want the car maker tracking my movements, or monitoring engine performance remotely, any more than I want Uncle Sam or Ins co or advertisers downloading(or uploading) my driving habits or my day to day travels.

Make sure to include my right to disable/turn off the devices without penalty.

adh773's picture

Only data relating to the safety and upkeep of the car should be sent.

johnkirkpatrick's picture

I am not in favor of ANY DATA being transmitted without my expressed (each time) consent. That automatic sending of data can be intercepted and misused...

johnkirkpatrick's picture

Better be better aware of what data your car is capable of developing, and with whom it shares or forwards the information to.
Everyone has seen the "Progressive Insurance" data cube that plugs into your OBD II port. It is designed to gather a lot of information that can, will and has affected many drivers auto insurance rate. You think it was a bad idea for Insurance companies to access and consider your credit report to determine your annual policy rate? Wait until they have access to all your driving data!
Representative Monning says that the Insurance companies can only use annual mileage to compute your insurance rate, then why does Progressive Insurance state that it will take a 'Snapshot' of your driving habits to get you a lower rate (or a higher rate)? Be careful on what data is allowed to be shared with anyone. Give up your privacy and you are giving up YOUR FREEDOM, which will never be restored!