Who Has Access to Our Connected Car Data (and How Is It Used?)

Data and your car.

Today’s cars are complex machines comprised of tens of thousand of interconnected parts. Among those parts are microprocessors, broadband chips, and sensors, designed to collect valuable information about the way a connected car operates, driver behavior, and telematics usage.

In particular, collected data heads to a network of servers known as the cloud, then accessed by interested parties, including car manufacturers, transportation departments, insurance companies, and others. Certainly, that’s a huge cause for concern among some, including privacy advocates. But already established protections in place and adopted by vehicle manufacturers should allay those concerns, giving drivers peace of mind that important details are not broadly disseminated.

man behind the wheel with data

Connected Car Data: The Details

So, why does your car collect data in the first place? For a number of reasons, including to help you avoid heavy traffic, to stay in your lane, maintain a safe distance between vehicles, increase fuel economy, and make automatic notification to 911 if you’re in an accident.

Not all connected cars have every one of these features — often, buyers must opt for driver-assist packages. Soon, however, all new cars will come fully equipped with these technologies.

Consumers Surveyed

Consumers are embracing connected car technologies, but at varying levels of consent. In 2015, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FiA) conducted independent research to gauge how much data new vehicles are able to collect and share. The organization, which represents auto or motoring clubs across the globe, investigated a pair of new models — one conventionally fueled (such as with gasoline or diesel), the other an electric vehicle.

Researchers found that the information gathered included driver profiles, vehicle location, and trip length. Moreover, synched smartphones (think Bluetooth) also supplied manufacturers with personal information. At present, all that data stays with the automakers and not shared with third parties.

Gauging Consumer Sentiment

As a result of its research, FiA conducted a survey of more than 12,000 consumers across much of Europe. After determining that just over half the respondents knew what a connected car was, they found consumer sentiment varies widely, depending on the tech features included. Among the key results were the following:

1. Just turn it off

Respondents want full control of their connected car data, with 91 percent affirming that they should be able to turn off all data sending if they choose to do so.

2. Sharing breakdown information

85 percent of respondents are willing to share vehicle information in the event of a breakdown. However, most people want to determine where those details go, such as to a roadside assistance service of their choosing.

3. Deciding data ownership

When it comes to who owns the data transmitted by connected cars, 69 percent of respondents said the owner, while 41 percent said the driver. Moreover, fewer than 10 percent thought the data belongs to the car manufacturer.

4. Respect our privacy, please

Although respondents offered a willingness to share data, 88 percent expressed concerned about disseminating private information. When it comes to the commercial use of personal data, 86 percent expressed their misgivings. Further, connected car hacking is a big concern too with 85 percent worried that it could interfere with their driving.

Car Manufacturers Pledge

Car manufacturers are ever sensitive to consumer sentiment and align their business models accordingly. Decades ago, automakers may have been slow in implementing key safety features in their cars, but that’s now changed — the auto industry has its pulse on what you, the car buyer, wants and is designing cars appropriately.

Representing 12 car manufacturers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Auto Alliance) has issued automotive privacy principles enacted to reassure car owners about collecting data. The Auto Alliance bases its three hallmarks on such sources as the White House Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and the Federal Trade Commission.

The three principles are:

1. Transparency

Automakers have pledged to be candid about data collection and promulgation. In particular, owner’s manuals and the company’s websites are two sources mentioned where consumers may find policy information.

2. Sensitivity

Utmost care for collecting information is of critical concern to consumers. Indeed, manufacturers say more sensitive information receives heightened protection. Information gathered is for legitimate business purposes only and retained only for as long as it’s needed.

3. Limitations

Only under limited circumstances is information shared with government authorities. What those circumstances are and precisely what data gets shared isn’t clear, however. Incidentally, a 2017 CARFAX Car Tech Safety Study noted, “consumers should be aware that history shows technology moving at a more rapid pace than government regulation.” Consequently, ongoing consumer vigilance is in order to ensure privacy policies get the job done.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, connected car technologies serve as a harbinger of what is to come, namely autonomous vehicles. Driverless cars will add a layer of connectivity not employed today, specifically vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology. Truly, V2V will save lives as it keeps autonomous cars from crashing into each other, perhaps overriding whatever public concerns may persist over data sharing.


AA: My Car My Data — https://www.theaa.com/newsroom/news-2015/my-car-my-data.html

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers: Automotive Privacy — https://autoalliance.org/connected-cars/automotive-privacy-2/

CARFAX: In Car Technology We Trust — https://www.carfax.com/press/resources/car-tech-safety-study

NHTSA: Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication — https://icsw.nhtsa.gov/safercar/v2v/

See AlsoHands-Free OK? Consumers Indicate Otherwise

Photo Attribution

Image by Garvin St. Villier from Pexels.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels.

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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