Each model year brings cars that are getting smarter and more connected, offering new safety features and consumer conveniences. By the end of the decade, one in five vehicles on the road will be connected to the Internet.

But for consumers to welcome these advances, they need to be sure their personal data will be handled in a trustworthy manner, as early research shows that considerable numbers of new car buyers are concerned about data privacy when it comes to car connectivity.


To address those concerns, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers have come together to put forward a set of privacy principles for vehicle technologies and services. These privacy principles set a responsible course for new uses of connected car data and should help avoid any privacy "bumps in the road."

The principles cover a wide variety of vehicular data, and they directly address some of the chief privacy concerns raised by new in-car technologies. For example, they cover location information, driver biometrics and other driver behavioral data, such as seatbelt use or frequency of hard-breaking, that can be gathered by a vehicle, and require opt-in consent by consumers before any of this sensitive information can be used for marketing purposes or otherwise shared with independent third parties.

The principles also include a warrant requirement for geolocation information to be shared with law enforcement, absent exigent circumstances or certain statutory authorities.

In all, these are important protections, and essential to ensure that consumer data are being handled in a trustworthy matter inside the connected car.

A new and timely study, "The Connected Car and Privacy: Navigating New Data Issues," seeks to provide policymakers and all stakeholders with an overview of the various technologies currently available in cars and identifies the types of data collected and the purposes for which it is collected.

While connectivity is the buzzword of the day, many of the recent privacy-related headlines about in-car technologies are, in fact, about data collection that is not novel. On-board diagnostic data have been generated by cars for decades, and recording accident-related information on Event Data Records (EDRs) has been operative for years.

Yet connectivity does promise new types of in-car data collection. New sensors and technologies do increase the ability of vehicles to harness location information and — in the future — will allow vehicles to collect more information about the car's immediate surroundings and its driver's behavior.

Today, connected cars frequently provide consumers with more opportunities to take advantage of location-based services in their cars and real-time traffic-based navigation. Similarly, onboard sensors can already be used by vehicles to detect lane markings and immediate obstacles.

In the future, in-car technologies will increasingly gather information about driver behavior or their biometric data. For example, vehicles will be able to quickly identify their drivers, changing car settings to accommodate the driving profile of a teenage or elderly driver. Sensors in the steering wheel or driver's seat will monitor stress-levels and health conditions.

Much of this information is used to drive vehicle safety improvements. Attention-assist features evaluate a driver's steering corrections along with other factors — such as crosswinds or road surface quality to predict driver fatigue. As they are developed, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications will also augment these features and will depend on responsible privacy standards.

At the end of the day, the manner in which data are used, shared, stored and protected will be essential to the wide embrace of connected cars and the data they collect. Similarly, understanding why data are collected and considering the safety, environmental, infotainment and consumer conveniences that are supported will be essential to future policy discussions.

Polonetsky is executive director and co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum.