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The Truth About Cars: The Hero We Need – Consumer Access to Repair Coalition


Source: Matt Posky, The Truth About Cars

When it comes to activism, it’s best to choose your battles carefully. Fortunately, there aren’t too many causes within the auto industry and most are easy to get behind.

Even though environmental activists sometimes find themselves at odds with reality, their hearts are usually [in] the right place, and they’ve encouraged automakers to try new and interesting things with transportation. Safety advocates can likewise go overboard, but we wouldn’t have seen cars get dramatically safer (or heavier) since the 1970s if they hadn’t.

Our favorite has to be consumer advocacy, however. With the exception of the occasional predatory lawsuit looking to take advantage of a dumb corporate decision, there’s precious little to scoff about. It also tends to overlap with our pet peeves by decrying bad business practices within the industry. Case in point, the Consumer Access to Repair Coalition has recently asked Congress to rethink how vehicular data is shared — noting that automakers shouldn’t need real-time monitoring for repairs and that the technology likely poses an unnecessary security risk.

The Consumer Access to Repair (CAR) Coalition, which happens to be the newest member of the right-to-repair movement, wants the U.S. government to reject the five-year federal preemption on state actions regarding telematics data-sharing that the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) requested. Whereas the AAI represents major automakers and part suppliers, the CAR Coalition is comprised of Allstate, Automotive Body Parts Association (ABPA), Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA), and LKQ Corporation.

Their stated goal is to make sure independent automotive parts and repair companies aren’t edged out of the industry while also backing the customer’s right to fix and modify their own vehicles. On Wednesday, the group released an open letter to House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce addressing concerns that customers are losing the ability to control vehicle-generated data — data it argues should have been private in the first place.

It also accused the big boys of being monopolistic (e.g. John Deere):

Increasingly, tactics employed by OEMs – including the use of embedded software and data restrictions – are driving out repair competition, while the consumer cost of auto repair has risen dramatically. OEMs are now calling for a five-year federal preemption of any state action regarding access to telematics data, a move which would only strengthen their developing monopoly of the automotive collision repair chain. The CAR Coalition urges you to reject this proposal. The American public would be better served by an open dialogue on these issues – including Congressional hearings – resulting in comprehensive legislation that preserves consumer choice and control over their data while ensuring cybersecurity, privacy, and safety protections.

The CAR Coalition rejects any suggestions that empowering consumers to control their data must come at the expense of road safety or that we would support measures that would jeopardize safety. Our members have an extensive history of being at the forefront of improving road and vehicle safety, from seatbelts and airbags to distracted driving laws. Our members are also industry leaders when it comes to consumer choice, whether it be allowing a consumer to choose who fixes their car or what a consumer should be allowed to do with their data.

It also stated that there is “no scenario in which real-time, remote access by third parties would be necessary to diagnose or repair a vehicle.” That would seem to indicate it believes the industry push into data acquisition is all about controlling the market and using those analytics for marketing purposes in a manner similar to Facebook or Google.

Formally launched today, The Consumer Access to Repair Coalition said it will call on Congress to explore expanded consumer choice over personal vehicle data. But it also wants a slice of the data pie if it’s up for grabs.

While the CAR Coalition still would like to give consumers full control of how/where data is shared, it noted that there would be benefits for those willing to participate in the information exchange. This primarily pertains to insurers (note the Allstate connection) who may offer discounts to those willing to share their telemetry. However, the group also suggested repair shops could also benefit by using real-time data to track maintenance schedules.

Frankly, we don’t think it’s any of their business, either — but the cat is kind of out of the bag on this one. All modern cars transmit information to varying degrees, and their further digitization is assumed necessary as more features are added. At least the CAR Coalition wants customers to have the option to say “no” and seems to understand the risks of letting unfettered data to swirl around in the ether. Privacy concerns are the core issue here, with little assurance from manufacturers that this information will be handled responsibly or be kept safe.

Of course, even if automakers could keep that promise, the Consumer Access to Repair Coalition seems to think that other avenues exist for harm. “Allowing an OEM exclusive control access and sharing of this data will inhibit consumer choice and allow it to potentially exploit the data for its own enrichment through targeted advertising, promoting their own products and services, or even selling it,” the group wrote.

As it’s something we’ve obsessively chanted for years, it’s certainly nice to hear it echoed elsewhere. And yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that the data exchange is already beyond the pale. It seems like every company is creepily eager to harvest our data these days — all so it can be shopped around the planet and return to us by way of targeted advertisements we didn’t ask for.

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