The Benefits And Risks Of 'Connected' Cars

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Whether we like it or not, our next new car could well be a connected car, gathering information about us and sending it to the car maker in real time -- and all the time.

The Australian Automobile Association today launched the "My Car My Data" website to help inform us of the emergence of "connected" cars, and what the potential benefits and risks associated with these vehicles might be.

AAA Chief Executive Michael Bradley said connected cars offer many consumer benefits.

"For example, these vehicles can talk to the world around them, helping drivers to be aware of and avoid traffic snarls or dangers on the road," Bradley said. "This can help drivers reach their destination more quickly, more safely and more fuel efficiently.In the event of an accident a connected car can alert emergency services bringing help more quickly."

But the control of the data generated by these vehicles -- and the emerging debate surrounding who gets to access it -- is set to pose potential privacy risks and possibly drive up running and repair costs due to impaired competition, says Bradley.

"Like with many other aspects of our modern lives, car technology is evolving far faster than our laws. Governments around the world are wrestling with how to balance innovation and consumer protection."

The experience in Europe has been that drivers of connected cars have only been able to share vehicle data with the relevant car maker. Many industry observers believe that if this situation is replicated in Australia, car owners may be left with little choice but to take their car to a branded repairer, rather than an independent repairer of their choice, which will affect competition and cost.

In addition to the potential for extra cost, there are also potential privacy concerns, as connected car technology opens up the opportunity for car makers to pass on or sell personal information to third parties, such as insurers or marketers. This is significant when you consider an investigation conducted last year on behalf of Europe's car clubs showed that highly personal information synced from mobile phones can be captured and transmitted back to the manufacturer.

"None of this is sinister in itself, but it is important Australians are told what information car makers collect about them, and what it’s used for before this technology becomes widespread in Australia," Bradley said. "It's also important that our politicians consider the need for regulation to protect the consumer rights of Australian motorists."

Prior to establishing the My Car My Data website, the AAA invited 24 vehicle manufacturers that sell vehicles in Australia to make their data management policies publicly available on the site. To date eight of the 24 have responded.

The AAA hopes that over time, more vehicle manufacturers will make their policies available via the My Car My Data website.

The ACCC is currently conducting a market study into the new car retailing industry including whether consumers and businesses could be affected by any restrictions on access to vehicle data.

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