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More privacy for car owners - Automakers commit to safeguarding info vehicle collects

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The 2014 Toyota Corollla. - Contributed
The GPS system on a modern car, such as this one, automatically collects a lot of data which is passed on to the automaker. - Contributed
An Aston Martin Rapide S. The brand is one of the automakers committed to protecting owners' privacy. - Contributed
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WASHINGTON (AP):

Nineteen automakers accounting for most of the passenger cars and trucks sold in the United States have signed on to a set of principles they say will protect motorists' privacy in an era when computerised cars pass along more information about their drivers than many motorists realise.

The principles were delivered in a letter last Wednesday to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has the authority to force corporations to live up to their promises to consumers. Industry officials say they want to assure customers that the information that their cars stream back to automakers or that is downloaded from the vehicle's computers won't be handed over to authorities without a court order, sold to insurance companies, or used to bombard them with ads for pizza parlours, gas stations or other businesses they drive past, all without their permission.

Reasonable measures

The principles also commit automakers to "implement reasonable measures" to protect personal information from unauthorised access.

Many recent model cars and light trucks have GPS and mobile communications technology integrated into the vehicle's computers and navigation systems. Information on where drivers have been and where they're going is continually sent to manufacturers when the systems are in use. Consumers benefit from alerts sent by automakers about traffic conditions and concierge services which are able to unlock car doors and route drivers around the path of a storm.

The National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also working with automakers
on regulations that will clear the way for vehicle-to-vehicle
communications. The technology uses a radio signal to continually
transmit a vehicle's position, heading, speed and other information.
Similarly equipped cars and trucks would receive the same information
and their computers would alert drivers to an impending
collision.

"As modern cars not only share the road but
will in the not-too-distant future communicate with one another,
vigilance over the privacy of our customers and the security of vehicle
systems is an imperative," said John Bozzella, president of Global
Automakers, an industry trade association.

Advertising
deals

The automakers' principles leave open the
possibility of deals with advertisers who want to target motorists based
on their location and other personal data, but only if customers agree
ahead of time that they want to receive such information, industry
officials said in a briefing with reporters.

"Google
may want to become an automaker, but we don't want to become Google,"
said Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile
Manufacturers.

The possibility of ads popping up on
the computer screens in cars 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. "We don't want pop-up ads to become a
distraction."

Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass, called
the principles "an important first step", but they said it remains
unclear "how auto companies will make their data collection practices
transparent beyond including the information in vehicle
manuals".

He said the principles also do not provide
consumers with a choice whether sensitive information is collected in
the first place.

"I will call for clear rules - not
voluntary commitments - to ensure the privacy and safety of American
drivers is protected," Markey said in a
statement.

Industry officials say they oppose federal
legislation to require privacy protections, saying that would be too
"prescriptive". But Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic
Privacy Information Centre, said legislation is needed to ensure
automakers don't back off the principles when they become
inconvenient.

"You just don't want your car spying on
you," he said. "That's the practical consequence of a lot of the new
technologies that are being built into cars."

The
automakers signing on to the principles are Aston Martin, BMW, Chrysler,
Ferrari, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mazda,
Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen
and
Volvo.