Connected Car: Big Brother is watching you (driving)?

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Connected Car: Big Brother is watching you (driving)?

BMW Connected Drive, Volkswagen Car-Net, Audi Connect, Mercedes me connect: Many customers, including me, won’t purchase a new car without connectivity. Our Cars Online Study 2017 shows that more than a third of respondents (36%) state to desire connected car services in their next vehicle. Just like my smartphone which is much more than just a wearable phone, my car is transformed into a mobile hotspot, enabling numerous Apps and online-based services making life easier for me as a driver.

It’s not one of my favourite hobbies to desperately search for my car in huge parking garages (especially when I’m in a hurry), and in such situations, I would be more than thankful if I could just easily navigate to my car’s parking slot via an app.

When I think of mobility in the future, I imagine not only talking to Siri and Alexa, but also to my vehicle (via any language assistant, which might even be Siri) that will then take me autonomously to my desired destination.

What seemed to be a faraway concept, has already started to form in the present. Connected cars promise great potential in terms of driving safety: In March 2018, the so-called “e-call” (which is an automatic emergency call system planned by the EU) must be installed in all new vehicles. This initiative generates additional attention for the connected car (and the necessary data transfers making “e-calls” possible).
Data protection concerns – The car as a data leech?
For a digital native, my car as another mobile device seems compelling and I don’t have to be convinced of the many advantages of connectivity in my car. Nevertheless, a recent discussion about data transfer from connected cars has made me reflect on what this means for my data privacy.

What does my manufacturer actually know about me, my driving behaviour and my location? What data is being collected and when and is this information being passed on or even sold to third parties? Is my data stored safely, or is there any possibility that my car gets hacked and manipulated whilst I’m driving? I would find it extremely concerning if, for example, my car usage data is shared without my permission to third parties such as insurances who may then be able to use it for analysis to determine insurance premiums.

The more I researched on connected cars and data sharing, the more alarmed I was. Data privacy activists reinforce consumers’ fears of the data leech. The General German Automobile Club (ADAC) revealed in a study that a Mercedes and a Renault continuously collected GPS data and other more random vehicle data such as the number of electronic belt buckles without any apparent need. Here lies the crux of the problem: The study of the ADAC shows that in most cases, only the manufacturers know in detail which personal and vehicle data is collected and for what purpose.

As the owner and driver of a connected car, I assume that the usage data on my vehicle is my information. However, I feel ill-informed about what happens to my vehicle data and would expect a more proactive approach from my manufacturer regarding when my data is collected, what for and who it’s shared with.

How can Automotive manufacturers meet customer expectations?

Manufacturers are increasingly aware of the value of customer and vehicle data, and new data-based business models are evolving. The market volume for connected services is expected to increase fivefold by 2020. However, customers are more willing (or sometimes ONLY willing) to share their data if its use is transparent.

About half of the respondents in the Cars Online Study 2015 that a lack of transparency in the usage of their customer and vehicle data causes dissatisfaction with the manufacturer. Nevertheless, this years’ cars online study concludes that the majority of automotive customers STILL do not feel well informed about data collection, processing and usage by manufacturers (especially in the connected car).

Like 34% of respondents, I am willing to share personal and vehicle data as long as my manufacturer is transparent regarding its usage and as long the processing of my data contributes to providing me with services and apps tailored to my needs while driving. I’m aware of the fact that if I want my car to warn me in case of any upcoming breakdowns, data has to be transferred to and analyzed by my manufacturer (or even dealer in case if service appointment bookings).

If manufacturers are taking customer expectations of connected car data sharing seriously, they should critically reflect on how they communicate about data processing from the connected car. The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) published a helpful guideline on data protection principles for connected vehicles, which can also be applied in other countries.

The principles are based on the following three pillars:

  • Transparency

Best practice is when manufacturers inform their customers proactively about the data that is being collected in the connected car and about the purpose of the data collection. From the point of view of a customer, full transparency could be achieved if the driver was able to monitor a real time over the board display of data being collected, transferred to whom and for which purpose.

  • Autonomy

As a customer, I want to be able to determine if and which data from my connected car is being transferred and processed. Again, it’s a feasible option to let the driver manage their consent anytime over the board display, which gives autonomy to the customer to administer his or her personal data, monitor vehicle data, control data processing anytime AND create transparency. However, it’s important to inform the customer (e.g. via a pop-over or a push notification on the mobile) that certain services cannot be used any longer if the necessary data cannot be processed anymore.

  • Data security

Manufacturers are responsible to take every precaution possible to protect vehicle data against cyber-attacks. Most importantly, data which is critical for the driving safety needs to be transferred encoded. To reassure the customer, manufacturers are recommended to provide more information on the measures taken to ensure a high degree of data security in the car.

Manufacturers should keep in mind these simple, but powerful guidelines when dealing with customers’ personal and vehicle data to foster a relationship of mutual trust which is the basis for truly personalized service offerings optimizing the in-car customer experience.

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