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Richard Holland

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Privacy & Data in the Age of the Connected Car

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In recent articles by both CNET & Automotive News, it’s reported that U.S. regulators are looking to institute mandatory vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications designed to prevent collisions and increase driver safety. Similar technology exists today in systems like OnStar that transmit vehicle data which is recorded and reported to the service as well as to the selling dealer on an opt-in basis. Regulators want to mandate all vehicles be equipped with this V2V technology, which they claim, “will prevent 70-80% of all crashes involving unimpaired drivers,” according to Automotive News. OEMs have already committed to integrating this technology into all vehicles by 2015.

While it’s certainly beneficial for dealerships to receive vehicle maintenance information from their consumers, people are raising concerns over privacy issues that exist. Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) work similar to a Wi-Fi network. We’ve all been exposed to data breaches and this concern is not unfounded. While regulators claim that connected vehicles present less of a threat of privacy invasion than cell phones do, many vehicles are now equipped with Bluetooth and cellphone integrations. Vehicles can store and read an individual’s music library as well as their contacts. This allows a consumer to operate their phone hands-free via built in controls or voice activation. It’s simple to see the inherent danger presented by connecting all vehicles together. If someone can drive by your house and invade your computer through an unsecure network or hacking, what’s to stop someone from hacking into your vehicle? DSRC technology, just like Wi-Fi, has a limited range. But all it would take is someone driving down the freeway in a group of cars to potentially penetrate nearby vehicles information, which could also expose cellphone data.  Some lawmakers even expressed concern when, in a May hearing, a US Senator asked whether “wireless communication could potentially allow ‘some 14-year old in Indonesian’ to shut your car down.”

V2V technology does present some interesting opportunities to dealership service departments, however. If dealerships are allowed to also access this information similar to OnStar, it could assist a dealer in more accurately diagnosing any vehicle service issues that may exist which, in turn, could lead to an increase in service recommendations. As OEMs increasingly create & integrate more technology into vehicles, accurate diagnosis of vehicles will also increase. Of course, none of this will ever replace a trained and certified automotive technician who can spot problems that are just beginning to occur, and recommend preventative service to the customer.

It will probably be years before this technology is effectively integrated into enough vehicles on the road to make it worthwhile and achieve the effectiveness that regulators are predicting. My feeling is that the simple existence of privacy and/or data intrusion could lead to limitations on what service facilities can access vehicular data. Manufacturers would more than likely prefer (and lobby) for access to be limited to franchise dealers. which could lead to increased service revenue for dealerships. Independent automotive repair shops may find themselves in a situation whereby consumer trust starts leaning more towards dealerships; as consumers realize that their vehicles will be more accurately diagnosed with a combination of vehicular data and certified dealership service personnel.

There’s no doubt that independent automotive repair shops will lobby for equal access to DSRC information. But who will consumers trust more – the guy changing oil at Jiffy Lube or a franchise dealer?

How do you think connected vehicles will transform the service industry?

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