The information today’s cars collect, and who has access to it

By Ben Young

AAA World Article

Despite the rise of car-sharing and public transportation, driving a car is still the norm in America. Most Americans spend an average of 294 hours behind the wheel each year, according to a recent AAA report. With all that time you’re spending in the driver’s seat, your vehicle knows more about you than ever, collecting data about the roads you take, the way you drive and even the music you listen to.

Most drivers aren’t aware of the volume of information collected by sensors, cameras, and onboard computers. While the exact information gathered varies by year, make, and model, many cars collect information about your driving habits (including acceleration, braking, and steering), road conditions, signals, locations and personal preferences.

On top of data our vehicles automatically collect, most drivers willingly enter information into their car by syncing their smartphone to their vehicle. This action often transmits contact lists, call logs, text messages, addresses, emails, and more to the vehicle’s onboard computer to create a more connected driving experience, but this information can be stored until the user removes it.

So why is your vehicle collecting data? For automakers, the road to revenue is paved with useful data, and mining your vehicle’s data creates an opportunity for them to develop innovative technology while also driving revenue. Currently, much of the data being collected from our vehicles is being used to support self-driving vehicle development so that manufacturers better understand how people and vehicles react to various driving conditions.

Many automakers are getting your vehicle’s information from a wireless connection. A 2018 investigation by Consumer Reports found that 32 out of 44 brands have some type of wireless data connection that can transmit information directly to automobile manufacturers without the owner knowing how that data is being used.

When it comes to the data collected by sensors and cameras in your vehicle, the laws are a little murky. According to KXAS, the NBC affiliate in Dallas, Texas, a 2015 law says crash data belongs to the vehicle’s owner, not the automobile manufacturer, but crash data is just a tiny fraction of the data being collected. Various lobbying groups, including AAA, are advocating that vehicle data be defined as the property of the car’s owner.

There are aspects of vehicle data collection that you can control. If you sync your smartphone to your vehicle, consider restricting how much personal information you voluntarily transmit to the car’s onboard computer. In addition, if you sell your vehicle, be sure to consult your owner’s manual to determine how to delete your personal information from the car’s onboard computer. If you can’t locate your owner’s manual, visit your car manufacturer’s website for a digital copy.