Who owns the data your car collects – consumer reports gas 1940


Tesla isn’t the only carmaker with an internal-facing camera in its vehicles. GM’s 2018 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise driver assistance has a steering-column-mounted camera that monitors the driver for signs of distraction; Subaru plans to offer a similar system in its 2019 Forester. (GM and Subaru told CR that these cameras don’t capture or store video.)

By reminding people to keep their eyes on the road, these driver-monitoring systems could have big potential safety benefits. Tesla, because of the over-the-air data connections to its vehicles, could add this type of functionality remotely to the Model 3 whenever the company deems it ready to deploy. Or never at all.

This is the state of technology in vehicles today. Many new cars and trucks are equipped with multiple cameras (usually external-facing) and dozens of sensors that measure everything from roadway markings to GPS coordinates to whether the driver’s hands are on the wheel. (See the interactive below detailing what your car’s sensors are collecting.)

One of the major forces pushing automotive technology forward is the industry’s race toward autonomy. Today’s advanced safety systems use cameras that can see the road and sensors that can detect obstacles. That hardware, combined with GPS antennas for location and a variety of sensors that monitor the behavior and performance of the car, could one day be used to make a car pilot itself.

Companies such as Mobileye, which provides computer vision systems to BMW, Nissan, and Volkswagen, are helping carmakers to collect that data through the cameras embedded in cars that drivers own today. According to spokesman Dan Galves, the company expects to have 2 million “data harvester” cars on the road by the end of 2018. “The purpose of the data collection is to generate a crowdsourced high-definition map,” he says.

That map can be built because cars transmit data from these sensors back to car manufacturers and their partners wirelessly. And the data flows both ways. Certain car companies are pushing out software upgrades to vehicles in the field. Tesla’s over-the-air updates routinely add (and sometimes subtract) significant new features to models months or even years after they have been purchased.

“There’s a trade-off to owning a connected car,” says Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy and technology policy at Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “The manufacturer can fix bugs and add new features over time, but you also lose some control over your vehicle.”

Cars could eventually “talk” directly to each other, too. In 2016 the Department of Transportation proposed a rule that would require automakers to install short-range vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology so that cars could share information about speed, location, and direction. The rule has stalled but is still under consideration by the Trump administration.

Much of the information coming from connected cars can produce safety benefits. But it has value for other purposes as well. There are more than 200 data points in cars today, with at least 140 viable business uses, and only about 15 percent are making money, says Niranjan Manohar, an automotive technology specialist at market research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

But privacy advocates say data anonymity promises are particularly tricky to verify. “It’s a fraught process,” says Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “I distrust anyone who says they are successfully anonymizing or deidentifying data until they explicitly say how they are [doing it].”

One of the companies hoping to get in on the car-data business is Otonomo. The startup, based in Israel, is working to create a connected-car marketplace by translating data from various car brands into a common language so that it can be used by third parties.

“A Mini puts out very different data than a Porsche or a BMW,” says Lisa Joy Rosner, Otonomo’s chief marketing officer. Otonomo claims it will anonymize some of the data, although certain use cases need “named” data, which could identify the driver. Rosner says those require an opt-in.

So far, neither Congress nor the DOT has instituted any new legal requirements for most car data. Many car companies say they are being proactive about consumer privacy, but advocates are concerned about the prospect of an industry policing itself.

Generally, the automakers promised to provide clear notice about what kind of data is collected and who is receiving it. Under the industry principles, consumers can review historical data from subscription services and certain information about car performance, maintenance, and driver behavior.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to read every detail of a complicated contract when they’re being pressured to complete a sale, or to dig through their 500-page owner’s manual, or search the web for privacy information they don’t even know may be there,” says David Friedman, director of cars and product policy and analysis at Consumers Union. “It’s unfair to expect consumers to constantly play defense.”

Tesla, for instance, has publicly released data from owners’ cars on numerous occasions—recently it did so after the fatal crash of a Model X in California last March. A week after the crash, Tesla said on its website that Autopilot, the company’s controversial driver-assist system, was engaged during the crash but that the driver did not heed multiple warnings to take the wheel.

Tesla did not comment specifically about this crash to us, but it has told CR that it does not proactively disclose logs from a customer’s onboard computer to the media or regulators. But in certain cases, when customers or others provide information that the company sees as materially incorrect or omitting key facts, Tesla believes it has a responsibility to correct the record.

Tesla owners may be used to the idea that the company has instant access to their driving data, says Brookman of Consumers Union, but that might be an unsettling revelation to other drivers. “If you’re thought of as the spyware car company, I don’t think that’s going to be good for business,” he says.