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Car Companies Confront Data Sharing

by Roger Lanctot | 4月 04, 2016

Senior OnStar executives have long intoned at industry events that the customer owns his or her data.  The only problem is that the customer is only allowed glimpses of his or her data.  They don't have control of that data in spite of their so-called ownership of it.

It's a complex challenge especially given the fact that car companies have obligations to preserve privacy and ensure security - and there is the possibility that vehicle data might be used against the interest of the auto maker.  Nevertheless, the voices are growing for data sharing with the loudest of those voices coming from the automotive aftermarket.

So it was somewhat surprising that an aftermarket association stepped forward last week to help quash legislation seeking to empower consumers with full control of and access to their vehicle data, as described in legislation before the Rhose Island legislature:

http://tinyurl.com/hpq5xrp - RELATING TO MOTOR AND OTHER VEHICLES -CONSUMER CAR INFORMATION AND CHOICE ACT

The Auto Care Association and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) applauded the Rhode Island House Legislature for considering legislation (HB 7711) requiring car companies to provide car owners with the ability to control where information transmitted by vehicle telematics systems is sent.  The two associations then asked the legislature to set aside the bill while the aftermarket task force works cooperatively with auto makers to resolve the data question.

The two organizations testified before the Rhode Island House Committee on Corporations regarding the benefits of telematics to the auto care industry, including the ability for shops to obtain diagnostic data from a vehicle before it arrives at the shop, which could improve service bay efficiency and speed the vehicle repair process.  The significance of this testimony derives from the potential influence of individual U.S. states on national policy governing vehicle repairs.  It was Massachusetts' adoption of Right to Repair legislation which helped to open up access to OEM diagnostic data in the first place - paralleling similar initiatives in Europe.

Aftermarket service providers are seeking to extend their repair rights further by enabling wireless or remote access to vehicle diagnostic codes.  Consumers and repair shops can gain access to at least some of those codes today with aftermarket devices via OBDII plug-in devices such as those from Automatic, Vin.li or Verizon Hum.  But car makers are working to limit the access of these devices beyond standard codes for emissions testing and other purposes. 

Car makers are concerned that the OBDII port ultimately represents a source of vehicle vulnerability to hacking.  Ford, Subaru, General Motors and some others have begun to provide the means for consumers to share their driving data with their insurance companies for the purposes of obtaining discounts.  Ford and GM have also enabled - again, along with a growing list of competitors - consumers to access data on vehicle health and performance.  It's a start.

The groups testified that, “All of the data available from embedded systems currently goes to the vehicle manufacturer, allowing them, and only them, to reap the benefits of this technology.  Specifically, armed with the extensive data about a customer’s vehicle, combined with the means to communicate directly with the driver in real time, the vehicle manufacturer has the ability to steer the motorists to the dealership or to a service establishment that may be a strong purchaser of their parts and information.

“While our associations both applaud and support the goal of HB 7711, at this time we cannot support passage.”  In the end, the bill was set aside.

In the testimony, the two groups stated that, “While legislation may be necessary in the near future, we strongly believe that a collaborative approach would be faster and more effective, and we are more than willing to work to make that happen.”

CARE and the Auto Care Association explained that both groups are working with other associations as part of the Aftermarket Telematics Taskforce, which has been meeting with the car companies in an attempt to find common ground. “This process is in its early stages, and therefore it is difficult to judge whether we will be successful. Should our attempt to find an agreement not be successful in the near future, we likely will begin pursuing a legislative resolution and would welcome the help of the Rhode Island Legislature in order to resolve this very critical issue.”

No two car companies have taken the same approach to vehicle connectivity or the sharing of or access to vehicle data.  There are few standards governing so-called vehicle "gateways' for accessing data and security and privacy have become increasingly severe barriers to greater sharing of vehicle data.

Organizations such as automobile clubs, AAA in the U.S., have been advocating loudly for more open access to vehicle data on behalf of their commercial concerns for coveted vehicle repair and insurance  business opportunities.  It's reassuring to see more reasonable voices prevailing in this debate.

Auto makers are struggling to come to terms with sharing vehicle data.  The last thing they need at this particular moment is a legislative mandate.

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