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KTVZ.COM: Senator Merkley Presses Carmakers for Driver Data Collection Info


Source: KTVZ.COM

WASHINGTON – Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.,called upon major car manufacturers Thursday to tell Congress whether their cars collect personal data from drivers, what data they collect, who owns that data, and whether data collected is securely stored to protect consumers’ privacy.

“While data plays an integral role in advancing new technology to maximize consumer benefits and bolster the American automotive industry, it is necessary to understand the scope, purpose, and extent to which our cars collect data,” Merkley wrote in a letter to 13 automotive executives. “It is understandable that this data is used to improve performance and safety, though it may be unclear to many consumers what level of ownership they have over the data collected by the car they own or are leasing.”

Many cars on the road today have the computing power of 20 personal computers. But while vehicle technology, like automatic braking and parking cameras, has evolved to enhance safety and improve driver satisfaction, questions loom over whether consumers’ privacy is at risk.

For example, if a driver uses Bluetooth technology when they’re behind the wheel, could their car extract personal or financial information from their smartphone? It has already been reported that cars can detect a driver’s weight gain. Given the vast quantity of highly personal data that car manufacturers could gain access to, it is critical that consumers and lawmakers know whether and how car companies are collecting and using this data, Merkley said.

Merkley’s letter inquired about various aspects of cars’ potential data collection programs, and requested an answer to these specific questions from each manufacturer within the next 30 days:

  1. Does your company currently install data collection technology in automobiles?
  2. If your company’s cars collect data, what purpose does this technology serve, in what circumstances may they be activated, and at what rate is this data collected?
  3. Please provide a comprehensive list of all types of data collected about the automobile as well as its drivers/passengers.
  4. Do consumers have the opportunity to opt-out of having their data collected?
  5. Who ultimately owns the data collected by your cars?
  6. Please specify what security measures you have in place to protect consumer privacy and prevent data breaches of any collected information.

Thursday’s letter was sent to BMW, Daimler, Ford, Fiat, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

The full text of the letter is available below.

Dear Executives:

I write to express concern over potential data privacy issues from automobiles that collect and use consumer data. Cars are becoming smarter, but the data that drives these technologies and question of data ownership do not appear to have been fully considered.

Years of research and development has facilitated breakthroughs in automotive technology to make our cars safer, more fuel-efficient, and easier to use. These advances benefit consumers by mitigating their carbon footprint, reducing the risk of collision and injury, and enhancing the overall driver experience. Yet while data plays an integral role in advancing new technology to maximize consumer benefits and bolster the American automotive industry, it is necessary to understand the scope, purpose, and extent to which our cars collect data.

A recent New York Times article, entitled “Your Car Knows When You Gain Weight,” enumerates types of data that may be collected, including consumer location, driving habits and, as the title alludes, biometrics. Once connected with a smartphone, a car could then have access to an individual’s calls or texts. While use of this data can inform the driver of their car’s performance or enhance navigation technology, concerns for consumer privacy as well as data security should always be taken into account.

Given that a modern car is reportedly capable of collecting this consumer data at a rate of 25 gigabytes per hour, the question of who owns this data is equally pressing. It is understandable that this data is used to improve performance and safety, though it may be unclear to many consumers what level of ownership they have over the data collected by the car they own or are leasing.

For these reasons, we respectfully request that the following questions be answered:

  1. Does your company currently install data collection technology in automobiles?
  2. If your company’s cars collect data, what purpose does this technology serve, in what circumstances may they be activated, and at what rate is this data collected?
  3. Please provide a comprehensive list of all types of data collected about the automobile as well as its drivers/passengers.
  4. Do consumers have the opportunity to opt-out of having their data collected?
  5. Who ultimately owns the data collected by your cars?
  6. Please specify what security measures you have in place to protect consumer privacy and prevent data breaches of any collected information.

I look forward to learning more about these practices and request a response within 30 days.

Sincerely,

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