Automakers Create Privacy Policies for Data From Connected Cars

Information collected by connected car systems today can include speed, location and other data. Carmakers aim to ensure consumers have protections for the data.

connected car data security

Data generated in motor vehicles by "connected car" systems will have to comply with newly written privacy principles as of January 2, 2016, as automakers work to better protect the personal data that is collected through on-vehicle systems.

The privacy principles, which were created on behalf of The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), the Association of Global Automakers (AGA) and their member automakers, build on other existing protections for consumers, yet target data generated by operation of connected vehicles, Mitch Bainwol, the president and CEO of the AAM, said in a statement. "These landmark privacy frameworks, when applied to automobiles, should reassure auto customers that their privacy is taken seriously," he said.

The issue arises because lots of information can be obtained today through a variety of vehicle systems, involving the collection of information about a vehicle's location or a driver's use of a vehicle, including speed, braking force and much more, the groups said. Ensuring that such data remains private is essential to maintaining consumer trust, the groups argue.

"The Alliance, Global Automakers, and their members understand that consumers want to know how these vehicle technologies and services can deliver benefits to them while respecting their privacy," the partners said in a statement.

The privacy principles cover a wide variety of in-vehicle systems, such as safety-enhancing technologies, diagnosing vehicle malfunctions, calling for emergency assistance, detecting and preventing vehicle theft, reducing traffic congestion, improving vehicle efficiency and performance, delivering navigation services and providing information services, according to the document.

The key principles include ensuring transparency to vehicle owners through "ready access to clear, meaningful notices" about how such information is used and shared, while also giving vehicle owners "certain choices regarding the collection, use and sharing of covered information," the document states.

Also included in the principles is "respect for content," which means that member automakers will "commit to using and sharing covered information in ways that are consistent with the context in which the covered information was collected, taking account of the likely impact on owners and registered users."

Participating member automakers also agree under the principles to minimize and anonymize the collected data to protect privacy, while also disposing of it after it is no longer needed for legitimate business purposes, the document states.

Also key to the principles is that the automakers "commit to implementing reasonable measures to protect covered information against loss and unauthorized access or use," ensuring privacy for vehicle owners. Owners will also have the ability to gain access "to maintain the accuracy of covered information" through a "reasonable means to review and correct personal subscription information."

Vehicle makers must also "commit to taking reasonable steps to ensure that they and other entities that receive covered information adhere to the principles," according to the agreement.

Over time, the principles will be subject to change and modifications as technologies and vehicles change, the group said.

The participating automakers include American Honda, Aston Martin Lagonda, BMW, Chrysler, Ferrari, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

The groups outlined their principles in a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in November.

Dan Maycock, an analyst with Transform Digital, said he is pleased to see the automakers come together to create principles aimed at protecting consumer privacy and to keep such discussions open.

"I think it's good to have consumer watchdogs out there making sure that such data is not being used against them," said Maycock. Drivers can already opt in today to get a device from an auto insurance company like Progressive that will give them reduced rates for safe driving. But such devices are optional, which is different than your new car reporting information about you to third parties, he said.

"If you opt-in with OnStar [the satellite in-vehicle assistance service from GM], it's not with the expectation that such information could be used to gauge how much your insurance could be," said Maycock. "And if such information could then be used in court, that's another big thing" to be concerned about.

"We're definitely in that gray area, but as long as [the data] is anonymized and they use it for trending [rather than for personal driving reviews], that would be OK," said Maycock. "It would not be OK if they could target specific drivers without consent."