Self-Driving Car Legislation May Leave Consumer Data Vulnerable, Watchdogs Warn

A number of consumer advocacy groups warn that legislation for self-driving car regulations could put consumer data and privacy at great risk. 

Public Citizen and 12 other advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress on December 7, urging senators not to move forward with S. 1885; the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary technologies Act (AV START).

The self-driving car legislation focuses on setting regulations for manufacturing, testing, and deployment of self-driving vehicles at a federal level, superseding any current state regulations in place. At the same time, it places certain oversight, licensing, and registration regulations at the state level.

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Lawmakers say this bill is necessary, considering 36 states currently have legislation in place regarding autonomous vehicles. This puts manufacturers at a disadvantage, since various regulations often must be followed in one state, which may be different from what is required in another state. The new bill would create a framework so regulations and oversight would be uniform.

However, the letter warns that the legislation allows auto makers to exploit customers via weak regulations related to data mining. Data mining is the practice of collecting large amounts of consumer data to use and sell to advertisers to make larger profits.

The new bill would preempt state laws in place concerning data privacy which prevent the misuse of personal information. The bill also does not call on car manufactures to provide consumers with control over the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information.

New vehicles are increasingly more connected than older generations. They contain wifi and connectivity options that were never concerns in the past. This means self-driving cars will provide more opportunities for data collection.

Car makers contain large amounts of personal information about consumers and actively focus on ways to monetize it. In fact, GM tracked radio listening habits of their customers to figure out ways to monetize data from connected vehicles, according to a recent report from the Detroit Free Press.

The letter warns that Ford CEO Jim Hackett recently bragged the company has the data of more than 100 million people who use Ford vehicles. The Public Citizen letter quoted Hackett about how the company leverages consumer data:

“We already know and have data on our customers. By the way, we protect this securely; they trust us,” Hackett reportedly said. “We know what people make. How do we know that? It’s because they borrow money from us. And when you ask somebody what they make, we know where they work, you know. We know if they’re married. We know how long they’ve lived in their house because these are all on the credit applications. We’ve never ever been challenged on how we use that. And that’s the leverage we got here with the data.”

The protest letter was issued by Center for Auto Safety, Center for Digital Democracy, Center for Media Justice, Common Sense Kids Action, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Digital Privacy Alliance, Media Alliance, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG.


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