Sen. Markey Warns Automakers Against Selling Connected Car Data

Senator Ed Markey is urging car manufacturers to halt data collection practices that could reveal sensitive information about consumers, and to avoid selling information derived from connected vehicles that could enable the creation of “detailed data profiles.”

“As cars increasingly become high-tech computers on wheels, they produce vast amounts of data on drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and other motorists, creating the potential for severe privacy violations,” Markey (D-Massachusetts) said in a letter sent to CEOs of 14 car companies.

“This data could reveal sensitive personal information, including location history and driving behavior, and can help data brokers develop detailed data profiles on users,” he continued, adding that the nonprofit Mozilla recently reported on “unfettered data collection and privacy intrusions” in the car industry.



“These business practices must end,” the lawmaker wrote.

Markey noted the possibility that physical sensors could gather physical or mental health data, and that location tracking technology could reveal someone's “hobbies, workout schedule, or even sexual orientation and sexual activity.”

He specifically warned the car company leaders that selling such information to data brokers would “magnify” privacy risks to consumers.

“By combining data collected from the vehicle with information from third-party sources such as a user’s browsing history or social media profile, data brokers can develop an in-depth driver profile and make inferences about nearly any aspect of a user’s life,” he wrote. “This combination of data sources creates significant privacy risks for drivers, passengers, and the public.”

Markey also referenced the possibility that car manufacturers could use data from connected cars for targeted advertising, “such as displaying an intrusive ad on a vehicle dashboard.”

The letter comes around two months after the nonprofit Mozilla described cars as a “privacy nightmare” in a post titled “It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy.”

For the report, Mozilla researchers reviewed 25 car brands and found that all collect more data than necessary, and 84% said they can share people's personal data with outside companies -- including “service providers and data brokers."

Markey is asking the car companies to answer a series of questions about their privacy practices, including whether they collect more information than needed, whether they sell data gathered from cars, and whether consumers can opt out of data collection.

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