How private are you on a scale of one to four? That seems like a random question, but it’s one the Volkswagen Group is posing to owners signing up to the We Connect app-based feature it’s now rolling out across its range.
Think carefully about your answer, because it determines both what happens to your data and how many features to which you’re given access. If you’re very private, you could be locked out of even what we now think of as basic features.
All new cars sold across the European Union since 2018 by law must be connected in order for them to be able to automatically contact emergency services in the event of a crash. So, with an embedded SIM card now mandatory, manufacturers are eagerly exploring what else they can do with this wireless connection to your car.
“E-call has been the main driver for us to get the car connected. Now it is, we see many opportunities from this perspective,” said Luigi Ksawery Luca, director of mobility and connected car at Toyota Europe.
Depending on the company, those opportunities range from sending automatic map updates or harvesting data on the car’s health through to radical upgrades that can unlock autonomous features.
Car makers face a dilemma, though. They want to access that valuable data, but they also need to follow the EU’s strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which also forms part of the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018. Hence Volkswagen’s questions.
The German company’s four levels are Maximum Privacy (which even deactivates e-call until the event of a crash), No Location, Use Location and Share Location. On that final level, “all mobile services are activated” and those services are listed using your location – for example, Amazon Alexa, live electric vehicle charging locations, live traffic information and voice control (which works far better when linked to ‘the cloud’).
“A trade-off makes the most sense,” said Brian Rhodes, associate manager for connected car at analyst firm IHS Markit. “They say ‘here’s the value in exchange for X, but I’m not going to give the value if you don’t want to give me X’.”
Volkswagen’s four-tier system is directly the result of GDPR, believes Rhodes. “It’s incredibly important they get it right, because there are significant ramifications if there’s a breach,” he said. “There are teeth to GDPR: the penalty is significant.”
The risk of your data leaking is becoming greater, however, because it’s no longer always held by just the car company. “It’s a cost issue. If you have your own servers with a lot of data, you need to maintain that,” said Mike Peters, head of connected car at infotainment specialist Harman.
Many car makers, including the Volkswagen Group, use Amazon Web Services, which is by far the biggest player in this field. Even data from advanced driving systems (ADAS) isn’t ring-fenced the way it once was.