Why connected cars are putting control of data back in consumer hands

It's already a given that autonomous cars will revolutionize industry, but in a post GDPR world, how will our personal data fare through this transition?


The next automotive evolution is around the corner — by 2022, it’s estimated that 125 million connected cars will be shipped globally, with UK penetration set to hit 100% in just two years. And, according to Deloitte, what the drivers powering this shift want are "cars that act as smartphones on wheels" and enable productivity on the go.

From the consumer perspective, this means being able to use entertainment apps such as Spotify or work email anywhere. For businesses, it means increased access to data.

A single vehicle can produce approximately 4,000 gigabytes of information per year, including location, behavior and driving condition insight. That’s a lot of data that can be harnessed for many use cases, from creating smart cities and traffic systems to informing targeted advertising. But before businesses can tap this data, they need approval from the drivers, who want to stay firmly in control.

The question then, is how can they acquire it?

Meeting privacy expectations

Consumers’ attitudes towards data sharing are changing. More than half (53%) of consumers surveyed by the Mobile Economic Forum (MEF) said it was extremely important to know if an app or mobile service is using their personal data, and this is likely to be especially important when it comes to connected vehicles, as consumers may not know exactly which technology is powering their in-car services.

In order to collect and process such information, companies must ensure they are doing so compliantly in line with the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) and ePrivacy Regulation. By clearly stating how, where and why data is being used, consumers will feel reassured and more trusting about allowing access to their data.

Putting safety first

With safety a priority for 48% of consumers purchasing cars, drivers are likely to want the same assurance for connected cars; only this time, they want defenses against cyber threats. To meet this need, blockchain technology is being developed, which will allow consumers granular-level control over what mobility data they share and who they share it with. Originally designed to support the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, blockchain is a decentralized ledger – or database – which is managed by a distributed network of multiple, independent computers. Before information can be added it must be verified by all endpoints, which means unauthorized changes are near impossible.

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When blockchain technology is applied to connected vehicle data sharing, it is a game changer. Because data cannot be tampered with, mobility information shared across blockchain networks remains highly secure. Moreover, there is less scope for hackers to infiltrate distributed networks, which reduces the risk of interference with the functionality of the car, including braking systems, steering or the engine.

Using blockchain to transfer mobility information will also control one of the major problems the data industry is currently facing: scraping. This underhand tactic allows organizations within the advertising ecosystem unsanctioned access to user data, by automatically extracting it and saving it locally for future use. As blockchain has a record of all the parties permitted to access data, scraping is made more difficult, ensuring that it is only chosen organizations that have access to driver data.

Encouraging exchange

Alongside security, companies hoping to collect mobility data will need to realize that choice is critical. In the MEF survey, 39% of consumers who said they did not feel in control of their data agreed with the statement: ‘I know that by agreeing to the terms and conditions I am giving permission, but I don’t feel I have a choice’.

Gaining consumer confidence, therefore, means offering choice and one of the best ways to do this is utilizing a sharing system built using blockchain’s decentralized ledger, which gives consumers control over which firms receive their information. But, to stand a chance of gaining consent for data sharing, companies must offer a genuine value exchange, rather than simply extracting it without the data producer’s knowledge when delivering a service.

A common method of exchanging value through blockchain networks is via tokens. These could be exchanged for incentives such as discounts on fuel, coffee, or insurance. The more data a driver shares, the more tokens they will collect, and the larger their reward will be. This system is set to revolutionize data sharing as it puts the consumer back at the heart of the process; returning control of data to the owner. In turn, consumers who believe they are getting something of value in return for their consent may share more accurate information so they are assured of receiving their reward.

Mobility data presents a compelling opportunity for the data industry, laying the foundations for smart cities and a more streamlined, connected driving experience. But for this automotive information age to become a reality, it is vital that the industry creates conditions in which drivers are genuinely willing to share their details. By offering consumers a fair value exchange and increased security that reassures them that their data is safe and processed fairly within distributed networks, organizations can benefit from improved data sharing and trusting and long-lasting relationships with them.

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