Auto clubs back bill to give car owners control of their onboard data

California's two big auto clubs are backing state legislation to give car owners more control over computerized information coming from their vehicles. Above, an experimental self-driving car.
(Doug Duran / Bay Area News Group)

SACRAMENTO -- California’s two giant automobile clubs on Tuesday unveiled legislation that they said would give car owners control over a wide range data streaming from their vehicles.

The bill, SB 994, was immediately attacked by auto manufacturers as a bid to generate more insurance revenue for the Automobile Club of Southern California and its AAA counterpart in Northern California.

Information covered by the legislation could include a car’s mechanical performance and location as well as a driver’s cellphone or entertainment system usage.

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“Our cars are quickly becoming mobile computers,” said bill author Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel). “While this technology provides several important benefits to consumers, it is imperative that there are basic safeguards in place to ensure consumers can decide who has access to their data.”

The proposal, which should get its first committee hearing in mid-April, would ensure consumers know and understand what information is being collected and transmitted to the automaker, guarantee that car owners and their designates have access to all the data and give owners control over who can see the information to service the vehicle.

“This bill is about choice. Nothing in this bill says the Triple A or anybody can have the information without the car owner’s permission,” said Alice Bisno, a senior vice president of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Major auto makers see the bill differently. The Washington-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers denounced the Monning measure as an “AAA insurance data-grab,” noting that the state’s two auto clubs are large insurance companies.

The legislation is “a dangerous gambit to access motorist data to share across its 50 affiliates for commercial advantage,” said Mitch Bainwol, the trade group’s chief executive.

“In doing so, SB 994 dangerously jeopardizes the security of data generated by an auto, posing an unacceptable threat to motorist safety, privacy and the 21st century future of automotive connectivity as championed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”