Connected Cars, Consumer Trust

Advances in technology that have led to new safety, infotainment and communications features in automobiles are drawing interest nationwide. From trade shows to showrooms, functions that could save lives and improve the driving experience are beginning to reach the market.

The defining characteristic of many of these connected car technologies is that they are dependent on data. Driving behavior, location, biometric information and other personal information all play key roles in powering safety, security, navigation and other essential functions. As a result, it’s no surprise that privacy issues have become part of the discussion for some consumers and policymakers.

One recent survey suggested that 37 percent of global respondents “would not even consider a connected car” because of their privacy concerns. As many consumers have yet to interact with a connected car feature, it is no surprise that a general privacy question will yield high concern. However, in our experience, once consumers see the value they gain from a data-related feature, privacy concerns are reduced – if companies handle data in a responsible manner.

Handheld cameras were once considered a privacy concern, when Kodak first began to sell cameras that allowed users to leave the portrait studio and take pictures outside. Someone could capture your image on the street! But consumers saw the value and societal norms adjusted. The same seems to be the case for the navigation features that many consumers are already using, in cars or on their smartphones. Consumers have also accepted the safety and emergency assistance services that have already been successful in the automobile market. Consumer value plus responsible practices ensures user satisfaction.

Writing new rules for the road

Although consumers are increasingly seeing the value in connected car services, the auto industry must work quickly to demonstrate that responsible practices are in place. In the absence of reasonable, reliable protections, legitimate privacy concerns may overwhelm consumers’ satisfaction and lead to knee-jerk legislative responses and overreactions.

As with many emerging technologies, the rules of the road for connected cars are still developing. The auto industry must work with regulators and consumers to ensure that connected cars make drivers safer and at the same time ensure that individuals’ rights are respected and their data protected. While industry groups and individual companies have already begun to develop best practices and appropriate standards for protecting privacy and security, some legislators instead have leapt straight to “pre-emptive regulation.” Unfortunately, premature efforts to regulate connected cars may cause more problems than they solve, stifling innovation without making consumers any safer.

In one leading example, a recently defeated California Senate Bill (SB 994) would have mandated blunt force, nearly unlimited access to all raw data generated through a car. While intended to provide insurers greater access to car data, the bill would have rendered a storehouse of invaluable data accessible to anyone, not just reputable insurers or auto repair professionals. Rather than level the playing field, mandating unfettered access to these connected systems opens a Pandora’s Box of privacy and security risks. Certainly consumers should have secure access to key personal information collected about them. And certainly auto repair professionals should have access to essential diagnostic information to maintain and repair vehicles. But legislative mandates to build an open door to sensitive consumer information would create serious privacy and security risks.

Repair shops also share responsibility

So how do you show that you are using data responsibly and have reasonable privacy and security measures in place, to reassure both consumers and regulators? The auto industry must begin developing its own best practices and guidance tools. There are many ways to promote and protect consumers’ data privacy, but there are several foundational steps every repair shop can take to stay ahead of the curve with connected cars.

Auto repairers and servicers will play a key role in earning trust as a touch point of these new technologies for their customers. Accordingly, it is important to make sure there are a few core tools in your business’s toolbox, to help allay consumer concerns and ensure that you are collecting, using and sharing data responsibly. At a minimum, you must be ready to:

• Communicate with customers about data. Your employees should be well informed about how the new technologies use data and be able to communicate about them with consumers. Being able to tell a customer, for example, how information is used, why it is collected, where it is sent and how it is protected will go a long way toward earning their trust and demonstrating professionalism. Trans­parency is a critical privacy principle for every data-driven industry, and can be an important tool for achieving customer service goals.

• Manage increasingly sensitive information. While many data-driven car technologies such as on-board diagnostics systems will already be familiar to repairers, new features will provide additional diagnostic information to servicers. Increasingly, this information can reveal more information about drivers and their activities and will need to be maintained confidentially.

• Have clear privacy policies. You must be prepared to responsibly manage and protect your own customers’ information. Your website needs a well-written, consumer-friendly privacy policy and your own customer databases and email lists need to be managed securely.

Consumers who have concerns with how their marketing information or customer data is handled will have concerns about how more-sensitive driving information is managed.

Be accountable. Every company in any industry today that handles customer information is obligated to develop internal policies and practices to govern precisely how they will deal with consumers’ information. When dealing with connected cars and driver information, it becomes even more critical that you maintain the integrity of your data governance and security programs – and to train your employees on those controls and procedures. Make sure that you are saying what you do, and doing what you say in regard to consumer information; if you change your information practices, notify consumers and give them choices if necessary.

If you do store personal information about consumers, you must take care to protect it from unauthorized access and misuse. Look to industry standard protections and periodically review and update your practices as necessary to protect against data leaks or breaches. Data security in connected cars is essential for both the vehicle and its onboard devices, to preserve drivers’ safety in the car, as well as in your shop’s IT systems, to protect consumers’ personal information from theft.

If connected cars are to be our future, then the future of connected cars depends on the entire auto industry working together to build a solid foundation of responsible data practices. Only when consumers can trust their repair professionals – and dealers, manufacturers and everyone else in the supply chain – to protect the privacy and security of their personal information, will connected cars be able to truly live up to their promise of safer, more efficient and more enjoyable transportation.