FILE PHOTO: Volkswagen's plant in Zwickau, Germany
Cars are collecting more information about how people drive and what they are doing while they drive.
The cars gather information about the music their drivers listen to and their good and bad driving habits.
More cars with computer processors and internet connections are getting on the road. The data they collect is valuable to car manufacturers and also information technology companies.
In Europe, European Commission officials are reportedly calling for rules about how car makers should make information available to others in the car business.
For example, car repair shops, insurance companies, and leasing companies all want information collected from drivers. But in some cases, large car makers seem unsure about sharing that data with other companies.
One critic said the car makers are “gatekeepers” who will make money by charging others for access. If they charge too much, they will restrict competition. Independent repair shops, for example, are worried that they will not be able to fix cars if they cannot look at the information stored by a car’s computer. Instead, drivers will be required to go to service centers owned by the manufacturer.
Sylvia Gotzen leads a trade group called FIGIEFA which represents repair shops and car parts makers in Europe. She said car makers get the full amount of data available while businesses she represents get “crumbs.”
But European car makers say they need to protect drivers by restricting how much information they share. A spokesperson for the European Automobile Manufacturers Association said “uncontrolled access” is a safety and personal data security threat.
Stellantis, General Motors and Volkswagen are car manufacturers that plan to make money from driver data. Some will create computer programs drivers can buy.
BMW does not agree that it is restricting access. If drivers give permission, the German automaker says it can share 100 “data points,” or kinds of information, with independent organizations. But the FIGIEFA said today’s cars produce thousands of data points.
BMW said it would like to have a meeting organized by a group, such as the European Commission, to make a list of car data points that everyone can agree on.
The chief of Stellantis gave an example of how data from its cars can help cities become safer. He said his company can look at data created by a car’s brakes and then tell a city which intersections on its streets cause the most emergency stops. But he added that kind of research can be costly.
Another way to use the data is to find ways to reward good drivers. Car makers can send information – such as how fast a car brakes and how often it speeds up – to insurance companies. That information can be used to reduce insurance costs for good drivers.
There are also car sharing companies that are independent, and those that are owned by large auto companies. The independent companies say they want to be sure they are paying the same amount for data as the others.
Nicolas Jeanmart leads Insurance Europe. He said the car makers need to let the drivers control who gets their data.
“You cannot leave this in the hands of car manufacturers,” he said.
If the car makers permit the owners access to all the information, Gotzen of FIGIEFA said, a repair shop could access the data from an internet connection. This would save car owners time and money because tests can take a lot of time and become costly.
“All of this is technically possible right now,” she said. But she added that “car manufacturers prevent us from doing this.”
One expert, Richard Knubben, said this debate might be happening too late. He noted that independent car repair shops may be in danger of going out of business because they cannot access the data right now.
“By the time we get legislation,” he said, “we may be stuck with an imbalance that we can’t fix anymore.”
Words in This Story
habit – n. a usual way of behaving; something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way
insurance – n. an agreement in which a person makes regular payments to a company and the company promises to pay money if the person is injured or dies, or to pay money equal to the value of something (such as a house or car) if it is damaged, lost, or stolen
lease– n. a legal agreement that lets someone use a car, house, etc., for a period of time in return for payment
access –n. a way of being able to use or get something
crumb – n. a very small piece of food, often left after eating
intersection – n. the place where two or more streets meet or cross each other
reward – v. to give money or another kind of payment to (someone or something) for something good that has been done