Ford, GM and Others to Adopt Auto Data Privacy Rules

But AAA Says the Industry's Voluntary Guidelines Fall Short

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In-car technologies are presenting a host of new privacy questions, particularly about drivers' location.
In-car technologies are presenting a host of new privacy questions, particularly about drivers' location.
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Ford, GM, Mercedes, Toyota and several other automakers have agreed to adopt new auto-industry privacy guidelines, the companies said. But AAA and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts say the voluntary principles they plan to follow, from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers, aren't good enough.

The consumer data privacy principles for vehicles come in response to the explosion of technologies enhancing the driving experience, generating and collecting an onslaught of potentially-sensitive data in the process. Additional prodding came from Mr. Markey, a Democrat who last December sent letters to 20 automakers asking them to explain how they would guard against consumer data cyberattacks and privacy infringements.

The industry principles being adopted require participants to provide drivers with clear notice of data collection and use; offer "certain choices" to vehicle owners regarding data collection, use and sharing; and ensure data is employed in the context in which it was collected. In addition, the industry guidelines call on car companies to gather only information necessary for "legitimate business purposes," to retain the information for no longer than needed, and to practice "reasonable measures" to protect consumer data.

View the guidelines document here.

The principles are lacking, AAA President and chief operating officer Marshall Doney said in a statement. "AAA is encouraged that automakers are taking a first step to address consumer rights with connected car data, but this agreement falls short of providing consumers the right to control their own information," he noted.,

"We remain concerned that industry continues to prevent consumers from having access to a competitive choice of automotive services," he said.

Mr. Markey also criticized the industry guidelines. "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," he said.

He said he will call for "clear rules -- not voluntary commitments" to govern auto data privacy. A perpetual privacy advocate in the Senate, Mr. Markey is not a lame duck. He won reelection to his seat representing Massachusetts on Nov. 4.

In addition to Ford Motor, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz USA and Toyota Motor Sales, automakers that said they'll abide by the industry guidelines are BMW of North America, Chrysler Group, Mazda North American Operations, Mitsubishi Motors of North America, Porsche Cars North America, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Car Group.

Location data harvesting and use remains a point of contention in discussions around auto data and privacy. In January, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report that data-hungry in-car location services could use some improvement in terms of their privacy and consumer notifications. The report focused in particular on location data gathered via navigation systems, many of which are enabled by third-party tech firms.

The new industry guidelines say participants must ensure that third-party technology providers also comply with the guidelines.

Car makers have more than a year to comply with the industry principles, which will apply to vehicles manufactured no later than model year 2017 and to tech service subscriptions started or renewed on or after Jan. 2, 2016.