What does your connected car REALLY know about you?

As the Paris Motor Show revs up this week, much of the hype surrounding the event is about connectivity. McKinsey have predicted that the data gathered from connected cars could be worth as much as $750 billion by 2030. So what exactly is your car learning about you and your habits? Well it’s a lot more than you might imagine…

You may be surprised (well, I was anyway) to know that just under 20% of all vehicles on the road are already linked to the internet and are recording / interpreting extraordinary volumes of data. And it’s only going to increase. By 2020 it’s predicted that as many as 75% of cars will be connected. General Motors, for example, claim they alone will have as many as 12 million connected cars on the road by the end of this year.

And what exactly is being recorded? Well naturally the destinations you have driven to. And at what time of day. Not only that but the routes you have taken to those destinations. And how fast you were driving to get there (of interest to insurers, fuel providers and possibly even the police?). Beyond that? Well, what music or radio station you were listening to? What temperature did you have the cabin? Were there any passengers in the vehicle? Did you have your seatbelt fastened? What apps did you use? And for how long? Did you search for anything? And, if so, what? All intriguing information for a variety of interested parties.

Depending upon the brand / model you drive, up to 100,000 data points are being constantly tracked. Want weird? Some cars can even monitor the weight of the driver and / or passengers. Useful data for those on a diet maybe? (and also the advertisers wanting to target them?).

Tony Posawatz, CEO of the consulting firm Invictus iCar and one of the developers of the Chevrolet Volt says:

“Everyone is trying to control the screens in the car. There is tremendous value in the data, and they are trying to figure out how to get it”

There are some clear benefits for the driver, such as cheaper car insurance or being sent personalised offers. For instance, GM will provide driving data to insurance companies like Progressive or State Farm to see if the driver qualifies for a lower premium. Their OnStar system can also send coupons to your smartphone for a variety of businesses and services (such as fuel, food etc.) along your route.

And it seems that most people don’t really have an issue with the sharing of their data. In a another study by McKinsey they found that almost 80% of the 3,000 car drivers interviewed in the US China and Germany were happy to share their data for some tangible benefit. In fact, over 70% were actually willing to pay for some data-enabled services (e.g. a parking spot finder). That’s pretty unlikely though as advertisers, insurers, music providers etc. are amongst those who could use that data to their (your?) benefit and would be prepared to swallow any usage charges.

However, there are some user concerns over privacy because when you buy a connected car you effectively cede data control to your car company. The majority of automakers will let owners opt out although it’s not exactly easy according to Khaliah Barnes, former associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who claims that the process is “buried in the fine print” of the user manuals. That said, the major automakers made an agreement in 2014 which commits them to providing precise information to consumers about data, their reasons for collecting it and also where it can be shared with third parties.

So what do you think? Do the benefits of the connected car and the provision of your data to improve the driver experience outweigh the downside of handing over control of your personal data? Or do you think that you should be able restrict certain aspects of your data or (more easily) opt out altogether?

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