Your car spying on you: Warnings over how much personal information it may hold

From location and driving styles to where you have been, the data is not regulated

Senay Boztas
Wednesday 09 December 2015 18:58 GMT
Information superhighway: evening traffic on the Autobahn in Berlin
Information superhighway: evening traffic on the Autobahn in Berlin

Thousands of Europe’s drivers are being spied upon by their cars and from 2018 every vehicle sold could alert advertisers and others to their habits and locations, a European motoring organisation is warning.

The Federation International de l’Automobile (FIA), a Brussels-based consumer body representing 111 motoring and touring clubs and 38 million drivers, has launched a campaign urging greater safeguards for the use of information on drivers gathered by tracking devices that will soon become compulsory in all new cars. A survey of 12,000 people in 12 countries, including Britain, found that 90 per cent want to own their own car data.

FIA spokeswoman Andrea Campbell said its, “My car, my data” campaign reflected the fact that information gleaned from cars is not protected by European data legislation.

“From 2018, every new car will have a wireless box for road safety, and there is talk of retro-fitting telematics boxes into older cars,” she said. “It’s only a small step to offering infotainment, traffic information and rest stop promotions.

“Manufacturers can track you, and lock you in to their terms and conditions. So we are pushing for dedicated privacy legislation for consumer data protection, greater consumer awareness, and a fair after-market for services.”

Data-connected cars gather information on driving styles, including the duration of journeys, speeds, acceleration and sudden braking, as well as details of where cars park, refuel or charge their batteries, and latest destinations entered into on-board navigation systems.

Smart systems can identify driving violations and mobile phone use, record the number of passengers and relay information about engine trouble to emergency services. Such data can be sold to third parties.

In one example given to the FIA from the Netherlands, a man claimed he passed a service station, driving alone in his new Volvo: but when he travelled by again on a different trip with four passengers, he had a “ping” proposing: “Don’t you want to take a break now?”

German MEP Evelyne Gebhardt said: “Consumers have a right to know what data they are sharing when they drive their car. Currently, only vehicle manufacturers have access to this data. Europeans deserve to control their data and to decide which service provider they choose to share it with. They also must have the possibility to shut off communication.”

International data security expert Davi Ottenheimer said car manufacturers may use drivers’ data in the same way as Google and Facebook.

“I would describe a vehicle as 100 computers transmitting 25 gigabytes per hour: that is essential metadata that says where you are going to be and when,” he said.

“Companies make money from giving you something free and turning your data into revenue, and of course that is a huge privacy issue. Now all of the metadata about your life can be collected by your vehicle.”

A spokesman for the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) in Brussels said it had just adopted five principles of data protection. “These include transparency, customer choice, ‘privacy by design’, data security and the proportionate use of data,” he said. “Data protection is an issue that Europe’s automakers take very seriously.” But he said cars would be covered by new privacy regulations and there was no need for particular laws to cover them.

Britain’s AA motoring organisation is to join the campaign. Its president, Edmund King, said: “Connected cars offer drivers a vast array of new and exciting services and they can also help with breakdowns and crashes. But drivers may be unaware of just what information is collected, how it is used, who owns it and how is it protected. We support the FIA’s campaign aimed at ensuring greater transparency.”

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