WASHINGTON — New vehicles are generating unprecedented amounts of data, and vehicle owners and independent auto repairers have very little control over it, much less access to it.
This was the message of consumer and auto repair advocates at an April 4 panel discussion and news conference in Washington. The conference was held concurrently with the Mobility Talks International and Industry/Media Day events that preceded the Washington Auto Show, which ran April 5-14.
"Across the street is amazing technology that makes cars safer and allows them to communicate with each other," Bill Hanvey, president and CEO of the Auto Care Association (ACA), said in remarks opening the event.
"However, with that technology those vehicles are generating terabytes of data," he said. "Consumers are very much unaware of where that data is being sent and whether that data is being sold."
Mr. Hanvey and other speakers advocated for a "Driver Bill of Rights," which among other things demands transparency of data, the right to choose which data are collected, the right to share repair and maintenance data through direct access, and the right to limit or turn off data collection.
"Car manufacturers are creating a data monopoly that is set to decrease competition and increase costs for consumers," according to a fact sheet handed out at the conference. "Drivers demand our data benefits us."
Jeff Plungis, lead automotive investigative reporter for Consumer Reports and moderator of the panel, said cars essentially have become smartphones on wheels.
"The underlying assumption is that consumers are comfortable with giving away their smartphone and browsing histories, and that they'll be the same with car data," Mr. Plungis said. "Consumer Reports is not so sure. More and more, we are concerned with the quality of our digital lives."
Greg Potter, chief technology officer for the Equipment & Tool Institute, said data had become "the new oil" for vehicle manufacturers because of the enormous monetary value. By that logic, he said, independent repair shops are becoming a new profit center.
"We couldn't get the data right from the vehicle anymore," Mr. Potter said. "You have to buy it from them. We want to obtain the data straight from the car, with no intermediates."
Joseph Jerome, policy counsel for the Privacy & Data Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said the issue of data ownership is problematic because of the nature of data.
"Data is not really the same thing as a physical product," he said. "It's differentiated from something you bought and drove off the lot.
"We need to acknowledge that data is a shared resource, and that different stakeholders have different rights," he said. "OEMs are excluding access to data to other stakeholders. Consumers and repair shops have vested interests, and they need to carve out their rights."
Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, said her organization supports a comprehensive privacy bill to protect consumer data, but added that passage of such a bill would be "a hard get."
A longtime advocate for auto safety, Ms. Greenberg stressed the need for consumer and repairer access to vehicle-generated data. At the same time, she said, we need to differentiate between the data needed to keep cars running and tires inflated, and personal data auto makers sell for billions of dollars.
"Individual information is not now protected, but 86 percent of Americans say they want to control their information, and have a delete button to eliminate what they don't want to be made public," she said. "In Europe, that figure is 90 percent."
The panelists cited several recent precedents that point the way toward comprehensive data privacy and access legislation.
These included recent guidance from the Federal Trade Commission; a sweeping new data privacy law that just went into effect in California; a new data broker registry law in Vermont; and the Massachusetts Right to Repair law, which went into effect with the 2018 model year.
The Massachusetts legislature is now considering a bill that would expand Right to Repair to include telematics and connected car data. No hearings have been scheduled, but the legislation has 55 co-sponsors, according to Mr. Hanvey.