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California Car Data Privacy Legislation: Misleading, Redundant, Self-defeating

by Roger Lanctot | Mar 25, 2014

The auto industry, insurance industry and Northern California’s AAA organization saw a collision of their interests over a bill, SB 994, proposed in the California legislature to put control of vehicle data in the hands of consumers. The broad outlines of the bill, crafted by the Northern California branch of AAA, which offers auto insurance services to its members, includes the following consumer protections (in the words of the bill’s sponsors):

Disclosure: Ensure consumers are informed and understand what information is being collected and what is transmitted to the automaker.

Access: Ensure consumers have access to their car information and prohibit automakers from creating exclusive systems.

Choice: Ensure consumers have the right to control who can access their car information and designate other service providers to receive their information to provide needed and wanted services.

More details: http://calstate.aaa.com/about-aaa/press-room/legislation-announced-to-provide-consumers-rights-to-control-their-own-car-data

The importance of the legislation derives from California’s outsize impact on the global automotive industry which originated with the influence of California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) on vehicle emissions standards around the world and is directly related to the size of the California new car market.  Automobile regulations enacted by California’s legislature have global impacts and for that reason attention is being paid and negative reaction from the automotive industry was swift.

Reaction: http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2014/03/control-of-car-data-at-stake-in-bill-monning-bill.html

While California and the SB994 sponsor AAA of Northern California have identified a problem – the preservation of the driver’s privacy and access and control of their vehicle data – the initiative flies in the face of competing Federal regulatory activity intended to connect all vehicles to one another in the interest of safety.  Further, the preservation of driver privacy has been rendered ambiguous by the integration of mobile phones capable of tapping into on-board vehicle data.

Car makers have just begun to create smartphone apps and customer portals allowing consumers to access their vehicle data.  These efforts, which are intended to raise consumer awareness of their vehicle data in the interest of improving vehicle care and driving behavior, may well be nipped in the bud if disclosure requirements create a data-sharing boogeyman.

 

In some respects, AAA Northern California should be seeking the reverse of a privacy initiative.  Wouldn't it make more sense to require car companies to take responsibility for collecting vehicle data in the interest of preserving driver safety in the event of a potential system failure?  AAA seems to have gotten itself tangled up in the wrong side of this argument - fighting against the interests of its own members.

The irony is that California already limits the kind of data auto insurers can use for usage-based insurance programs, such as those offered by AAA, raising questions about why AAA Northern California would “wave the bloody shirt” of vehicle data privacy in the first place.  This is a problem already in the process of being solved by the industry and legislation of this kind is redundant, misleading and self-defeating for those parties interested in improving driving safety.  And no doubt existing privacy disclosure requirements ought to be sufficient. 

One possible exception is the access to vehicle data by independent car repair shops.  The auto industry and the independent repair industry are locked in a battle over the so-called “right to repair,” but this issue, too, seems to have already been resolved by previous legislation - in California no less

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