IoT & Embedded Technology Blog

Automotive Privacy Protection Principles Don't Go Far Enough

by Steve Hoffenberg | 11/14/2014


The Association of Global Automakers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers jointly announced on November 13, 2014 a set of voluntary “Consumer Privacy Protection Principles.” (See the press release here, and download the principles PDF document here.)

The document is written in quasi-legalese, but in essence, it’s a pledge by automakers, beginning with the 2017 model year, to among other things: ConsumerPrivacyProtectionPrinciples

  • inform consumers about how data collected from their vehicles will be used
  • obtain “affirmative consent” for certain ways that data might be used
  • anonymize aspects of the data under some circumstances

VDC applauds the auto industry for recognizing the importance to consumers of privacy for data collected by electronic and digital technologies, which are growing by leaps and bounds in new vehicles. However, the principles don't go far enough in several respects:

Security – The document states that participating members must “implement reasonable measures to protect Covered Information against loss and unauthorized access or use,” then says that “reasonable measures include standard industry practices.” The word reasonable is too wishy-washy in this context, so those statements in the privacy principles don’t inspire confidence that automakers and their partners will go the extra mile for data security. (Why don't the principles say the members must "implement strong measures" to protect the data?) Without defining any minimum security measures or committing to create or adhere to an ISO standard, it comes across as a nice way of saying, “We’ll make a good effort at security, but don't expect us to guarantee the data won't get breached.” In addition, security issues apply for data within vehicles' internal systems, for data during communications from vehicles to infrastructure, and for the databases where the manufacturers will aggregate and store the data. Security policies should specify minimum requirements for how data will be secured at each of these levels, as well as how authorized third parties with data access will be required to secure the data.

Consent – The document states that automakers need to obtain consent to “a clear, meaningful, and prominent notice disclosing the collection, use, and sharing of Covered Information.” However, the document includes no provision for a vehicle owner to deny such consent or revoke it afterwards. Why would that be important? Because the consent form is likely to be presented to consumers among a stack of numerous papers that they sign in a perfunctory manner when buying a car. In addition, consent ideally would provide vehicle owners with the ability to agree or not to agree to each type of data collected, rather than any blanket statement of consent to collection of all data. We’ll see how this plays out when the first consent forms hit the market.

Data Access – The document says that consumers will have “reasonable means to review and correct Personal Subscriber Information.” Such information may include name, address, telephone number, email address, and even credit card number. It’s fine that automakers will give consumers the right to access the data that they themselves provided in the first place, but what the document misses entirely is the basic principle that consumers should have the right to access data produced by their own vehicles. Although this isn't a data privacy issue, it is a data rights issue that automakers need to address. In VDC’s opinion, vehicle owners should have, for example, the ability to take diagnostic data to an independent mechanic, rather than manufacturers only providing such data to its dealers or third parties that have paid to access it. That concern is partly mitigated by "right to repair" laws, which are already in effect in the European Union and slated to take effect in the U.S. in the 2018 model year, although full data access would go beyond such laws. Vehicle owners also should have the ability to access geolocation and nearly all other data generated by their own vehicles. Certain types of data may need to be kept confidential, but the default should be to provide consumers access to data from their own vehicles unless there’s a legitimate safety reason not to make it available to the people whose vehicles generated it.