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When Ford’s global marketing chief Jim Farley suggested the maker “knows” what its customers do behind the wheel earlier this year, it triggered a firestorm. And though Ford quickly backed down, saying it doesn’t track motorists, privacy advocates increased pressure on manufacturers to reveal what they’re doing with the personal data they do collect – and put limits on how it can be used.
In response, a group of 19 automakers have gotten together lay down some ground rules, which they hope will assuage fears about the accessibility and use of the material. The makers say the information won’t be given to government officials or law enforcement agencies without a court order, sold to insurance companies or other companies without their permission.
The automakers agreeing to the “rules,” which they submitted to the Federal Trade Commission, include: Aston Martin, BMW, Chrysler, Ferrari, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.
The makers are willing to abide by the newly created “rules” because they believe actual laws could become onerous. They also committed to “implement reasonable measures” to protect personal information from unauthorized access.
The concerns from privacy advocates stem from the fact that many vehicles in recent years have a variety of GPS and mobile communications technology built into them. The devices record and transmit all types of information and they’re afraid the data could be used against the owners of vehicles in some situations or they can create a safety issue for drivers.
The black boxes now installed in new vehicles has caused some to worry that law enforcement agencies could use data from the device in accident investigations or that they could track a vehicle’s whereabouts.
Additionally, the rising level of interactivity of cars has some wondering if pop-up ads could begin appearing on the touch screens of cars, trucks and SUVs as folks are motoring down the road.
However, the possibility of the ads isn’t entirely eliminated in this new set of rules. If customers agree at the time of their vehicle purchase, they could receive messages from advertisers who want to target motorists based on their location and other personal data. The possibility of ads popping up on in-car touch screens while drivers are behind the wheel worries some safety advocates.
“There is going to be a huge amount of metadata that companies would like to mine to send advertisements to you in your vehicle,” said Henry Jasny of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, according to the Associated Press. “We don’t want pop-up ads to become a distraction.”
The issue is a pressing one as the connectivity of vehicles is only going to increase in the future as the federal government, led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Communications Commission, sort out how vehicles will talk to one another as well as adding full internet access to vehicles.
For example, one form of the technology uses a radio signal to continually transmit a vehicle’s position, heading, speed and other information. The information is picked up by other similarly equipped vehicles and then could warn the other driver of a possible collision.