Car Manufacturers Could Face Privacy Crackdown, FTC Suggests

The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday warned it will clamp down on automakers that wrongly disclose data collected from connected vehicles.

“Car manufacturers -- and all businesses -- should take note that the FTC will take action to protect consumers against the illegal collection, use, and disclosure of their personal data,” staff in the FTC's Office of Technology and The Division of Privacy and Identity Protection said in a post on the agency's technology blog.

“While connectivity can let drivers do things like play their favorite internet radio stations or unlock their car with an app, connected cars can also collect a lot of data about people,” the agency wrote. “This data could be sensitive -- such as biometric information or location -- and its collection, use, and disclosure can threaten consumers’ privacy and financial welfare.”



The FTC noted it has already said that selling geolocation data can be an unfair practice, adding that it recently prosecuted the companies X-Mode and InMarket over alleged sales of location data. X-Mode allegedly sold data that could be used to track consumers to medical facilities, domestic abuse shelters, homeless shelters and other sensitive locales. InMarket allegedly collected location data from apps installed on smartphones, then cross-referenced that data with “advertising-related points of interest” for ad-targeting purposes.

The FTC also said surreptitious disclosure of sensitive information can be an unfair business practice, as can using sensitive data in algorithms.

“Companies that have legitimate access to consumers’ sensitive information must ensure that the data is used only for the reasons they collected that information,” the agency wrote.

“The easiest way that companies can avoid harming consumers from the collection, use, and sharing of sensitive information is by simply not collecting it in the first place,” the FTC added.

The warning comes around two months after The New York Timesreported that car manufacturers were sharing information about consumers' driving habits with insurance companies. Soon after that report came out, General Motors said it had stopped sharing the data.

Last year, Mozilla separately described cars as a “privacy nightmare” in the report “It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy.”

For that 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."

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