We need guardians of data with customers’ interests at heart

The previous 15 years or so have heralded an explosion in the number of people who own and use smartphones. In fact, the desire to be connected at all times has become such an integral part of daily life that most people regularly bring their cell phones into the car and interact with them while driving.

Just a few years ago, connected cars were considered emerging technology, with automakers like Ford, Audi and Lincoln experimenting with in-vehicle connectivity. In the ensuing years, an entire industry has developed around the connected car and in-vehicle infotainment market. The industry shows no signs of slowing; on the contrary, BI Intelligence forecasts that revenues from connected services are expected to top $152Bn (£96Bn) by 2020.

With this emergence, we find that the average car on the road today generates a mind-boggling amount of data. With sensors monitoring tyre pressure to engine revs to oil temperature and speed, cars can produce anywhere from five to 250 gigabytes of data an hour. While gathering vehicle information may not be new, channelling it at today’s volumes and integrating it with information about a car’s operating atmosphere at a particular time, is a brand-new challenge and opportunity. Manyplayers have a stake in the market, from insurance companies to automakers to providers of connected car technologies. All are vying for a share of the profit that comes from this data but a large question remains: who should ultimately own and benefit from in-vehicle data?

Today, automakers have many choices when it comes to delivering a connected experience to consumers. They can choose to develop a proprietary platform and hire developers to support their application ecosystem; they can work with Silicon Valley mobile providers to integrate the smartphone with the vehicle dashboard; or they can license technology from a third party platform vendor, which places the smartphone as a node in a more networked system. Each choice has an impact on who owns and ultimately controls the data generated from connected car and in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems.

Auto companies hope to profit from in-vehicle data in a variety of ways, from the provisioning of travel planning services and auto repair to delivering real-time service updates that bring drivers to dealerships. Data collected on vehicle performance in crashes, how long a vehicle travels before it runs of out gas, how well it handles certain road conditions, etc., can be used to inform future design decisions. Some automakers also expect to work with insurance companies, who base their rates on driver conduct behind the wheel.

Insurance companies have a vested interest in securing access to in-vehicle data as well. This valuable information about consumers and their driving habits is used to inform everything from marketing strategies to setting rate and premium levels. Insurers also share or sell this consumer data to their affiliates.

As a result, insurance companies have attempted to affect legislative change by requiring automakers to make in-vehicle data freely available – something the industry has staunchly opposed on the basis that it compromises driver safety by opening up the vehicle to hackers. Other insurance companies have offered discount rates to drivers willing to carry devices, which are plugged into the vehicle ODB-II port and which capture data for use by the insurance company. Automakers and others in the industry have fought these changes, as these devices raise the potential for hackers to take control of the vehicle, in much the same way as making the data freely accessible.

Silicon Valley mobile providers offer systems that are being supported in a larger number of vehicles today, systems that gain access to a wealth of potentially profitable information collected by connected car technologies and on-board sensors. These technology companies hope to profit from this information in much the same way insurance companies do: by sharing or selling the data to affiliates and using it to deliver targeted ads to consumers.

Many in the industry have cautioned against ceding ownership of in-vehicle data to Silicon Valley mobile providers, fearing that the addition of targeted ads and other marketing messages will only add to driver distraction. In addition, by allowing Silicon Valley providers to own the in-vehicle infotainment relationship with the consumer, the connection to the automaker is weakened from a brand standpoint.

Third party platform software providers offer systems that are licensed by OEMs and Tier-1 suppliers to deliver the in-vehicle infotainment experience. Many of these systems enable the automaker to collect and benefit from in-vehicle data without the expense of building a proprietary platform. These systems typically give ownership of vehicle temporal data to automakers rather than collecting the data for themselves. From the standpoint of an automaker, either building a proprietary system or licensing a third party platform, would appear to give them the greatest control over in-vehicle data.

When it comes to finding an answer for the question of who should own and profit from in-vehicle data, many in the industry feel that it should be the automakers themselves.

No one else in the industry has as much of a vested interest in driver safety or consumer well-being. Considering that safety and privacy are two primary concerns of every consumer, no one is better positioned to safeguard these areas than the auto manufacturer. Data ownership in the vehicle should be focused on vehicle relevancy and enriching the drivers’ experience. Drivers embrace the benefits of information and connectivity for things like receiving insights on traffic delays, route monitoring, auto repair and service data, weather insights, vehicle diagnostics and more. Making drivers safer and smarter by enabling vehicles to be an extension of their connected lives is truly no “accident”.

Don't miss Active Safety: ADAS to Autonomous this October 12-13.


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