Hey! Get your hands off my data!


We know that we are sharing increasing amounts of personal data with companies via the internet. Every time we surf the web or use a smartphone app, providers are profiling our behavior to target advertising or up-sell our purchases. We don’t often think of our car as another tool that tracks our behavior and our environment, but increasingly, connected cars are just that.

In 2016 about 22 million cars sold worldwide were equipped with cellular internet. By 2021 that figure will have risen to about 94 million, or 82% of new car sales. The services for connected vehicles will range from entertainment, to vehicle performance, to driver trip information. And one thing is certain – if you allow the manufacturer to turn on connectivity, your vehicle will become a probe for massive data capture. Estimates are that connected cars will generate 25GB of data per hour, equivalent to 12 full-length HD movies. Transmitted data will include all aspects of vehicle operation – engine performance, location, acceleration, speed, braking, and even windshield wiper use. Eventually vehicle cameras and sensors will transmit physical roadway and traffic information. And that doesn’t even include other information that will be captured, such as what music you are listening to or which store your car is parked near.

Wait a second, you say. It’s my car. That’s my data. So who owns it? It’s somewhat comforting to know that, as owner or lessee of the vehicle, you probably do own the data. But OEMs and other businesses want that connected car information and they will figure out how to encourage you to hand it over.

Ford recently announced the construction of a US$200m data center in Michigan to ready the company for the massive amounts of data that will flow from connected cars. Without legislation, OEMs and their partners will be in a position to embed data communications technology in new vehicles and ensure that only they will be the initial recipients of the connected car data. The future value of this data is huge – McKinsey places 2030 connected car data monetization at US$750bn.

This column focuses on how changing technology affects the operators of public transportation systems. The question at hand is: if OEMs control all connected car data, how do DOTs and other transportation agencies get to use it to improve safety and mobility? The simple answer is that we really don’t know. It will depend on the resolution of policy questions such as: Will data transmission from vehicles be mandatory or at the owner’s option? Will new vehicles be required to transmit some amount of standardized data to a public entity, whether by cellular communication or DSRC? Or will auto makers control the capture and redistribution of connected vehicle data? How will transportation system operators obtain connected car data, and at what cost?

These are important questions, and the outcomes will affect the ability of public transportation operators to improve system safety and efficiency. Further discussion of these questions will be the subject of my future columns.

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