One-in-Five Support Russian Government Owning Vehicle Data

Defining data ownership has become a burning question this year in Russia.

Authorities pushing forward with Autodata – a project of creating a nation-wide holistic database of vehicle and traffic parameters. In June, government-owned organisation NTI Avtonet polled a panel of about 90 experts on the issue and found 60% of them thought vehicle data should be the property of vehicle owners, mirroring the opinions of most Western colleagues, albeit 16% gave their voices to the automakers and 4% to auto dealers, while a remarkably big share of 20% believe the data should belong to the government.

This is happening a year after the European Union had ruled the data generated by vehicles belongs to their owners and is subject to privacy rules under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations. In the US, Congress has yet to pass comprehensive federal data privacy legislation.

The least of the evils

Although the conference was a closed event, TU-Automotive was able to find experts from minority interests and talk to them. We found that the difference between the proponents of government against those of automakers centered round balance of safety and progress.

“I voted automakers because I understand the data is needed for [technological] development,” said Sergey Udalov, CEO at analytical agency Autostat. “Ownership by drivers will cause issues with collecting and using the information. The government has no relation to the data either. I agree, though, that tracking data could be used for traffic monitoring and safety management.”

Safety is the main point of the supporters of government-owned data, according to Avtonet press secretary Yaroslav Fedoseev: “They argue that vehicles are safety hazards and the government is the safety guarantor.” Their biggest concern is that the data ends up in the hands of commercial companies. “Most colleagues voted for the people but this will lead to corporations actually holding it,” said Stanislav Shvagerus, head of the competence center at ANO International Eurasian Forum Taxi.  “Only the government can serve as a referee and secure road safety and fair competition.”

Shvagerus recalled several cases when accumulation of information in the hands of business harmed public interests, including the recent taxicab accidents outbreak in Moscow and scandals over data sharing by Facebook in the US. When asked if the need for the authorities to hold all the data was a nation-specific approach related to the people’s mentality, he answered “no”. “In many aspects of vehicle connectivity Russia leads the way. For instance, we introduced ERA-GLONASS ahead of the European eCall. The same is happening with creating a complete database. I believe that other nations will launch similar initiatives.”

The expert also believes that when the data market is formed, societal benefit will demand fair competition and equality of access to data for all. “For the first time in history, our government is trying to collect the big data in one place, making access convenient and complete for everyone. As a single seller, it will act in accordance with transparent rules set by the community, while private companies would pursue their own interests. We want to choose the least of the evils here.”

Privacy concerns

A big concern of many people is threats to individual privacy and freedom if personal information is trusted to a government or a company. Both Udalov and Shvagerus believe, however, that it’s not ownership status but rules of data handling that protect people’s rights. Particularly, Udalov proposed that some of the telematic parameters should be collected and processed anonymously.

“In practice, there is no significant advantage in private users owning the information,” said Shvagerus. In any scheme, it is kept not at a home desktop but at a remote server that is susceptible to malicious attacks or misuse by the server owner. He suggests that civil audit of the government is the best solution: “In Russia, national and regional civic chambers execute this function proving efficiency of such form of control.” He also agreed that vehicle owners must be given a right to influence use of their personal information by the government, including the ability to prohibit sharing it with third parties.

The corresponding draft law, due in December 2019, will mirror the majority’s opinion and fix data ownership in the hands of vehicle owners. “Today, when buying a vehicle, we give an implicit permission to handle our personal data, not realizing that it is our potential property,” Avtonet’s press release cites Alexander Gurko, co-head of the Autodata project and the president of NP GLONASS. “The initiative will give drivers the ability to control information usage.”

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