Auto Industry has Long Way to Go in Protecting Consumer Data

The projected amount of data that motor vehicles generate and transfer, particular those that are connected as V2V and V2X gradually develops, continues to grow significantly.

In 2014, McKinsey estimated that modern cars could process 25 gigabytes per hour. Seven years later, the Automotive Edge Computing Consortium predicted that connected cars would transfer 10 exabytes (one billion gigabytes) per month by 2025. These estimates only factor in the technologies of their time and do not consider how cars may evolve as additional ADAS and autonomous features are developed. There were, for example, many assumptions that autonomous vehicles would arrive (or be close to deployment) by 2020. That certainly wasn’t the case, though automakers have continued to work on features to improve safety, whether in the form of assistive tech or full autonomy. All of those features are likely to add to the demand for more data but that doesn’t necessarily mean modern cars will have access to the technology or the insights they actually need to advance.

Mamatha Chamarthi, chief business growth officer, software at Stellantis, believes that smart infrastructure, both the infrastructure itself and the data resulting from it, are the missing link for modern mobility. She said that, as humans, we have many emotions and many mental states that we deal with and noted that our reflexes in driving the car depend on our mental state.

The computers powering autonomous vehicles won’t have to deal with human-like emotions internally but they will have to better understand the driving environment, including the way humans behave, to commute safely. “For complete autonomy to work, you need to know how your vehicle is performing but [also] your vehicle in the context of other human-driven vehicles and autonomous vehicles,” said Chamarthi. She questioned how we might get that data into the vehicle to achieve Level 4 or even Level 5 autonomy. However, without that data, she wondered if we might end up with separate lanes just for self-driving cars.

Autonomy is an evolution, not a revolution

New infrastructure, and the data derived from it, will be necessary in order to avoid a scenario in which autonomous and human-driven vehicles must remain in separate lanes. Yet, infrastructure comes at a high cost; this is why EV charging stations are still few and far between when compared to traditional gas stations.

Make no mistake, progress is being made. There more than 130,000 individual EV chargers in the United States alone. However, there are more than 145,000 fueling stations and each station contains multiple pumps. The cost of adding additional EV chargers means it could take years before they match, and eventually surpass, the number of pumps that are currently available. “It’s pretty capital-intensive,” said Chamarthi. “And not just for the automotive industry but for the surrounding ecosystem to support it.”

Smart infrastructure is expected to come with a multi-trillion-dollar price tag and the actual technology has yet to be developed beyond the concept stage. Consequently, the cars themselves may have to be even smarter than initially anticipated to compensate for what the infrastructure lacks. “As long as you have human and autonomy mixed, understanding human behavior is the most complex thing,” Chamarthi explained, noting that human driving is a learned behavior with many cultural influences. “That’s why autonomy is an evolution, it’s not going to be a revolution. It’s not like one day it’s human-driven cars and the next it will be completely autonomous.”

As data demand increases, transparency will be a must

Could the rise of data use impact future regulations in the automotive industry? It’s not out of the question. Both the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) were developed to protect consumers as data collection increased. Businesses had grown increasingly careless in how they obtained, stored and used consumer data, prompting regulators to get involved.

Chamarthi is concerned that if automakers don’t take the necessary steps, the auto industry could end up in a similar situation. “We need to be fully transparent with the customer on why we are collecting their data,” she said. “Today, Google Maps is collecting my data and I do not know where it is being used. Because of that lack of transparency, you need a lot more regulation. If we really flip that model to where the customer has complete control over their data, then I think a need for regulation will go down.”

Chamarthi made it clear that she is not against regulation but she said that if businesses provided consumers with the power to decide if their data is collected in the first place, and ultimately determine how it can be used, there would be fewer concerns. “Similar to NHTSA, which is there to improve safety in vehicles, these regulations are to improve the digital safety of our lives,” Chamarthi concluded.

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