States Begin Dealing With Driving Data, Right-to-Repair Laws

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

In reading this website, you’ve no doubt come across paranoid rants about automotive companies vacuuming up your personal data as connected cars become the norm — often written by yours truly. Frequently bleak, they address a multitude of concerns we believe will only get worse before they can get better.

A large part of that has to do with automakers seeing the potential of leveraging customer data, like so many tech companies have before them. But elected (and unelected) officials also seem to have a loose grasp of the technology and its potential ramifications. When the Department of Transportation initially approved self-driving vehicles for public testing, the guidelines were loose and largely dependent upon self-reporting — few wanted to stand in the way of developing systems that might someday save lives.

However, manufacturers are now beginning to issue over-the-air updates, perpetual internet connectivity, gamification, and in-car marketplaces (complete with advertisements). While the new technology has opened up new doors for customer experiences and corporate revenue, it’s accelerating at a pace that’s difficult to track. As a result, lawmakers in Massachusetts and California are starting to get antsy. The former hopes to address how data will be handled in accordance with the state’s right-to-repair laws. The latter is more directly concerned with privacy.

Let’s start with Massachusetts.

The state’s right-to-repair law, enacted in 2013, stipulates that vehicle owners and independent repair facilities have access to the same diagnostic and repair information that automakers make available to certified service centers. According to Automotive News, groups representing the aftermarket industry have been lobbying for an amendment that would give them the same level of access.

Bill Hanvey, president of the Auto Care Association, claims existing laws don’t provide sufficient access to telematics data that aftermarket providers insist they need to make proper and safe repairs to modern vehicles. They want the law changed to include a provision that would give independent providers the ability to sue manufacturers for failing to provide “information, including documentation, updates to firmware, safety and security corrections, diagnostics … or a tool required.”

It should be said that this is part of a much larger fracas between automakers and independent repair/aftermarket shops. With all the high-tech safety equipment found in modern vehicles, several automakers claim aftermarket shops cannot adequately ensure safety. A few have gone so far as to suggest they’ll void the warranty of any owner who decides to have their advanced driving aids (or related equipment) fixed/modified by anyone other than them. Aftermarket group are growing concerned that this could spill over into the rest of the car; they’ve asked the Federal Trade Commission and various states (including Massachusetts) to intervene.

“The auto industry is creating the false narrative that you can either have safety or you can have repairability,” said Paul McCarthy, president of the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association of independent suppliers.

Moving on to privacy, California passed a law mandating that all businesses disclose data collection and sharing practices to consumers in 2018. However, the rules for how it will be enforced aren’t due until 2020. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is currently working on fine tuning the plan.

“Consumers have a right to request that their data be deleted. Consumers have a right to opt out of the sale or sharing of their personal information. And businesses are prohibited from selling personal information of consumers under the age of 16 without explicit consent,” Becerra’s office said in a statement.

From Automotive News:

The California State Legislature has approved amendments to the law that affect automakers and dealers. The key change permits automakers and dealers to keep and share vehicle data exclusively for purposes of a warranty or recall-related repair — even if a consumer has asked for the data’s deletion — as long as the data isn’t sold against the consumer’s wishes.

Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Association, says the association “fought hard” to secure the enactment of the warranty exception.

“Protecting consumer data, while simultaneously ensuring warranty and recall-related vehicle information can be shared between dealers and OEMs, is vital to protecting vehicle safety,” Maas told Automotive News.

While we don’t necessarily agree with the death grip automakers want to place on their products, we do see where they’re coming from. There’s a lot of money at stake, especially in regard to data acquisition and those pricey, semi-autonomous features that will someday require replacement. Manufactures also don’t want to be liable for any safety issues — and several advanced driving aids have already proven to be somewhere between dangerously unreliable and somewhat persnickety. Introducing independent repair/aftermarket players only adds uncertainty while costing OEMs money.

We’d like to see more choices for consumers and some transparency within the industry. But it’s early days for both Massachusetts and California, never mind the rest of America. The Golden State could easily pervert its new data laws before 2020 and Massachusetts could struggle to get its right-to-repair amendment passed. Even if it does go through, we’ve still got questions about whether it’s a good idea to share data with more companies just so automakers don’t have a stranglehold on the aftermarket. That endless flow of information to parties known and unknown is kind of how we got here in the first place.

[Image: CAT SCAPE/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • PJmacgee PJmacgee on Nov 06, 2019

    Look what Amazon does with the Kindle - you can buy a cheaper version "with special offers" (aka targeted advertising), or a slightly more expensive option that's normal. I might pay slightly more for a non-spying data-pimping car, if given the option.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Nov 06, 2019

    "if given the option." That option is unlikely to be available at any price.

  • Bd2 I wonder how TTAC is celebrating this JuneTeenth? Rolling around naked in hyundai flavored mud somewhere like they usually do?
  • Wjtinfwb I'd like to see a Ford/Mazda relationship restarted. Both companies have some car guys keeping the flame alive and could develop a sports car slightly bigger than a Miata and pick and choose from each other's parts bin to put together some attractive powertrain combo's. Even a Mazda 3 AWD with the 300HP EcoBoost 2.3L, manual and AWD from the Focus RS would be welcome. Even better, a factory Miata V8 with the 480 HP Coyote (i know it wont fit...) and a manual gearbox. And how about a CX-5 with a 2.7L EcoBoost V6 with AWD and an chassis tuned for sport. Lots of possibilities.
  • Blueice Patient 28, sorry, but it is Oktoberfest. Bring a kegof Kraut beer and we will 50% you.
  • Bd2 Probably Toyota, Hyundai is killing them these days.
  • Wolfwagen If Isuzu could update this truck and keep the cost between $25K - $30K they would sell like ice pops on dollar day in a heat wave.
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