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Schumer Reveals: Cars Collecting Data on Drivers, Allowing Companies to Sell Data to Highest Bidder

Schumer calls on FTC and NHTSA to develop rules that will protect drivers and make it clear where the information is going.

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New York, NY - February 24, 2014 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that, in light of cars that are collecting reams of data on where Americans drive, he is calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to establish clear guidelines that will require carmakers to notify drivers when they are being tracked and allow drivers to opt out completely from sharing information. During last month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, many carmakers revealed new technological enhancements that they are embedding in cars. These advancements include: automatic crash preparation, black boxes, smart-phone-like operating systems, dashboard apps, etc. Schumer praised the potential positive safety implications of this new technology – many of which are being required by the federal government – but warned that the data that is being collected by the influx of technology is being sent to third parties without drivers’ knowledge. The Senator is urging the FTC and NHTSA to work together with the auto industry – and other companies that track vehicular data – to establish clear guidelines around what can and cannot be tracked, and to provide clear opt-out opportunities for drivers.
“New technologies being embedded in cars should only be used to make us safer, not as a way to intrude on the privacy of hundreds of millions of drivers without their permission,” said Schumer. “Cars are ‘smarter’ than they have ever been, and they will only continue to get smarter as technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Cars are now able to track where we shop, where we eat and where we go on family vacations, but drivers should be able to go about their daily lives without being tracked. That is why I am calling on the FTC and NHTSA to work with the auto industry to implement clear guidelines on this tracking and enforce an opt-out for drivers, so that we can all feel a sense of privacy behind the wheel.”
According to a December 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the collection of location data by carmakers and developers of ‘smart-car’ technology is a widespread practice. The report revealed that 90% of the companies studied (9 out of 10) share the data they collect with third-party companies. In some of these cases, the data being shared is personally identifiable and has not been scrubbed in a way that would make it unidentifiable with a particular car or driver. The GAO report also concluded that carmakers’ privacy practices around how they use the information their cars generate were unclear and make it difficult for drivers to understand privacy risks associated with driving.
Schumer warned that the ways carmakers and automobile-technology companies can track drivers is growing every year, as new smart-car technology is constantly being unveiled. Some of the more recent advancements include:
  • Black box technology that tracks speed and location of a car in order to better understand the cause of accidents.
  • Driverless cars that rely on a combination of radar, sonar, lasers, WiFi and GPS.
  • Vehicle-to-vehicle communication tools that help prevent accidents
Schumer hailed many of these advancements as having the potential to make driving safer, but he made it clear that each one of these advancements could compromise drivers’ privacy in some way. Schumer said that, given the fact that carmakers have been tracking and storing information for years with more primitive technology in place, it is likely that companies will continue to store this data – which is now more detailed and more valuable than ever – with more advanced tracking technology available. Schumer also said that this data could eventually be sold not just to traffic-information providers but to advertisers and businesses looking to more accurately target consumers.
Specifically, Schumer requested that the FTC and NHTSA work with car companies – and any other companies that collect data from vehicles – to ensure they are providing “plain English” disclosures that clearly state what the data collected from cars will be used for; that opt-outs always be available for consumers; that the data be collected in a way that does not reveal the identity of any individual or vehicle; and that companies that collect data from vehicles should have internal policies in place to protect information in the case of a breach. Schumer noted that the FTC and NHTSA are already soliciting comments on the “internet of things” – the way that smart appliances communicate with one another – and Schumer urged them to consider his suggestions as part of their ongoing considerations.