Mobility evolved. Cars, trucks or busses – even some bikes – are like computers on wheels nowadays. And computers operate with data. The newer developments in the mobility sector, such as the sharing economy or autonomous vehicles, are predestined to collect huge chunks of information.
But who controls this data in the end? There is still no conclusive decision whether data sovereignty belongs to the respective company, or whether the customer will simply have to deal with offering up more transparent data in order to use a service. And every time huge amounts of personal data are collected, questions such as “What happens with my data? How will they be processed? Are they secure?” arise as well.
In other industries like social networks and e-commerce certain rules for such cases are already in place. These rules decide whom the data belongs to and if it can be collected. Connected cars however still fall into a grey area.
Sharing Providers Need Customer Data – But What Happens Afterwards?
The collection of data is a sensitive issue for many sharing providers. After all, companies like DriveNow need to gather information on their customers. They need to know who drove where, when and for how long. Only with this information can the app tell the next driver where the nearest vehicle is located. Without this data, the sharing providers can’t issue an invoice. And if the car is damaged, the companies need the data to find out who might be responsible for the damage, or who was the driver at this time. There is a need to gather specific customer data and it is very difficult to manage this otherwise.
But what happens with the data after the journey is completed? In 2016 car2go and DriveNow emphasized in an article in Die Zeit that they would not save or create any movement profiles of their customers. Furthermore, DriveNow said in the same article that they would only collect some data to generate invoices – and this data would be processed under pseudonyms. But at the same time, BMW’s sharing network attracted public attention: After a hit-and-run incident involving a DriveNow car, the Munich-based car manufacturer submitted the saved data on the driver to a court in Cologne. The bike-sharing provider Obike also made it into the headlines in November 2017 because of a data breach: Customer data and movement profiles were stolen from the company and found online.
While sharing providers need to collect certain data, these two examples still lead to the question what data is gathered and how it is processed.
Should Autonomous Cars Submit Their Data to Third Parties?
The same can be said about autonomous vehicles. They need to collect, save and process huge portions of data in order to be fully functional and safe. This can be information about the road surface or the weather, but also about more sensitive issues like speed and location. An example: If a robotic car wants to react correctly at an interchange, it needs precise data on the car’s speed, exact location and more. Autonomous cars need to detect and gather everything that the human driver usually would, conscious or unconsciously, and this is a huge amount of data.
Oxbotica already has suggestions for what could happen with the data: The Oxford University spin-off develops self-driving vehicles and emphasizes the idea that cars should share data among each other and with third parties – insurance companies for example. Then insurers would control the data and therefore also the risk. The idea is for autonomous cars to gather and transmit the data to the controlling third party, who would analyse the given information and send it on to other self-driving cars, which would include recommendations and instructions for various actions. An autonomous car could then detect a high traffic volume on a highway, send the information back to the insurer (who analyzes the information), and evaluate the cause of the traffic jam. Afterwards the insurer would send this information back to all robotic cars in the area, with the instruction to drive slower on this specific part of the highway. This is an example of how the communication between the vehicles and third parties could work.
But to whom does the the data belong? Who is allowed to use it? Can it be submitted to other parties that easily? In Germany, a commission consisting out of 14 people, led by the constitutional expert Udo di Fabio, issued 20 theses on autonomous mobility. The commission emphasised that the user herself has the right to decide if the data can be processed and transmitted.
Data Needs to be Gathered – But what About the Usage Afterwards?
The majority of Germans believe that the data sovereignty should stay with the customer. According to a study by the digital association Bitkom, 69% of the Germans are convinced that the owner of a car has the right to decide what happens with the gathered data – and 57% even give the driver the right to make decisions on the data (which could be important with regards to the sharing economy).
The goal should be to provide greater clarity on which data can be gathered, who controls it, who processes it and what happens with it afterwards (for instance after using a shared car).
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