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Carmakers promise they'll protect driver privacy -- really

Lucas Mearian | Nov. 14, 2014
The world's 19 biggest automakers have agreed to principles they say will protect driver privacy in an electronic age where in-vehicle computers collect everything from location and speed to what smartphone you use.

The world's 19 biggest automakers have agreed to principles they say will protect driver privacy in an electronic age where in-vehicle computers collect everything from location and speed to what smartphone you use.

A 19-page letter committing to the principles was submitted to the Federal Trade Commisison from the industry's two largest trade associations: the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) and the Association of Global Automakers (AGA).

The AAM represents Detroit's Big Three automakers — Ford, GM and Chrysler — along with Toyota, Volkswagen AG and others. The AGA also represents Toyota, along with Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co., among others.

The trade groups promised that without a court order, private information will not be sold to insurance companies or used to bombard drivers with business ads without their permission.

The principles also commit automakers to "implement reasonable measures" to protect personal information from unauthorized access.

Among the promises agreed to by the automakers:

  • Our members will not disclose the customer's geolocation data to the government unless the government produces a warrant or a court order.
  • Our members will not market to their customers using identifiable personal data collected by the vehicle unless the customer explicitly agrees.
  • Members will give customers clear and meaningful notices about the collection, use and sharing of any personal information generated by their vehicle.
  • Members will maintain data security and implement safeguards, consistent with industry best practices, to control risks to data such as loss, unauthorized access, and improper disclosure.
  • Our members will not share sensitive personal data collected by the vehicle with data brokers and other third parties unless the customer explicitly agrees.
  • Our members will each have a dedicated web portal that will contain their privacy information.

Newer vehicles have head units (infotainment systems) with embedded GPS and mobile communications technology, such cellular and radio frequency or — in some of the newest cars and trucks — embedded Wi-Fi routers.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the House Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the voluntary privacy pledge is an important first step but falls short in two key areas: choice and transparency.

"It is unclear how auto companies will make their data collection practices transparent beyond including the information in vehicle owner manuals, and the principles do not provide consumers with a choice whether sensitive information is collected in the first place," Markey said in a statement today.

Markey said automakers must make security and privacy as standard as seatbelts and stereos for drivers and their vehicles.

In coming weeks, Markey plans to release the findings of an investigation into the privacy and security practices in the automotive industry. "I will call for clear rules — not voluntary commitments — to ensure the privacy and safety of American drivers is protected," Markey said.

 

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