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What Your Car is Telling Its Manufacturer About You

The next question is whether you can do anything about it.

By Leo Shvedsky
March 16 2022
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The information superhighway leads back to the carmaker. (Shutterstock) 

These days, we are told that Thursdays are the new Fridays and that age 40 is the new 30. The truth of those statements is debatable — but here’s something that is certain: The data collected by our devices is a new gold mine. You may not realize it, but our internet-connected cars are collecting data on you, just as like laptops and smartphones. Here’s another news flash: Companies are willing to pay big bucks for that data.  

Governments in Europe and elsewhere are trying to figure out how to regulate the consumption and sharing of that data, and shielding your personal data from misuse and abuse. 

Leaving aside the scary “hacker taking control of your car” scenario, which we’ve covered in the past, the data collected on you by your car can tell the manufacturer and others all kinds of things about you.  

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Car repair shops and rental companies access data by plugging in. (Shutterstock) 

Kind of like your internet browser data that is tracked by cookies, the metadata collected by car manufacturers can tell them all about your mileage, fuel consumption and average speeds, which can in turn inform them of your movement habits within a certain radius of where you live (assuming they have your address, which they likely do). It can also tell them about how often you engage the anti-lock braking system and median speeds, which is already used by insurance companies to determine the rates people pay.  

Then there’s the infotainment system in your car, like whether you use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. They’ll know it and they’ll know whether you prefer the steering wheel controls over the knobs and buttons on your dash. Any electronic action in your car is recorded and stored.  

In some ways, this can be helpful information carmakers can use to design and manufacture safer and more comfortable cars — and that is better for everyone. Consumers get a better car and the manufacturer stays in business.  

What the future of auto technology looks like. (Youtube)

There is, however, an obvious flipside to this, where the data can be sold by carmakers to data aggregators and insurance companies, who in turn sell it to other companies without your consent. Or worse, the data can be hacked and stolen by malicious parties for, you know — hacking stuff.  

Balancing the need for privacy is a thorny issue and one that the EU is trying to tackle right now, with carmakers looking to make vehicle data harder to obtain while leasing companies, rental firms and smaller manufacturers saying that blocking access to that data will limit competition and allow for greater power for bigger manufacturers.  

There are many possible solutions to this, from allowing users the right to withhold consent to sharing data to sweeping legislative blocks and limitations. None have been agreed to in Europe or anywhere at this point, but this is a topic to watch closely as the data gold rush is real and what’s as stake — your data — is the gold mine. 

Related: Why Is Auto Industry Paying Attention to Cybersecurity?

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