California Privacy Agency to Investigate How Automakers Record and Use Driver Data

California Privacy Agency to Investigate How Automakers Record and Use Driver Data

The inside view of a "Tesla Model Y" car, an all-electric compact SUV by U.S. electric car giant Tesla, during its presentation at the Automobile Club in Budapest on Sept. 5, 2020. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

8/16/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

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A privacy rights agency in California will review the practice by vehicle manufacturers to collect private information from drivers, officials recently announced.

The California Privacy Protection Agency 2020’s enforcement division will ask manufacturers about their user data collection, including location sharing, web-based entertainment, smartphone use, and cameras.

The vehicles often gather driver locations, personal preferences, and details about their daily lives, according to a press release published by the agency on July 31.

“Modern vehicles are effectively connected computers on wheels,” said Ashkan Soltani, the agency’s executive director. “They’re able to collect a wealth of information via built-in apps, sensors, and cameras, which can monitor people both inside and near the vehicle.”

The agency is looking into whether the car companies are complying with California privacy law when they collect and use vehicle data, according to Soltani.

Vehicles head east out of Los Angeles on the Interstate 10 freeway in Alhambra, Calif., on May 27, 2021, ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Vehicles head east out of Los Angeles on the Interstate 10 freeway in Alhambra, Calif., on May 27, 2021, ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

California has more than 35 million registered vehicles, which makes the issue of data collection a concern for all residents who drive, ride in, or walk near a car equipped with the technologies, the agency reported.

In May, a U.S.-based automotive firm Privacy4Cars published a new tool online, called the Vehicle Privacy Report, that allows users to input their vehicle identification number and find out how much data their car is collecting.

The service tells vehicle owners what information is sold and to whom, including location status and biometrics—such as voice, facial recognition, and fingerprints. It also tells owners if that information is sent to the government, service providers, insurance, or data brokers.

Most modern cars are “smartphones on wheels,” as they are able to collect and wirelessly send data back to manufacturers, Privacy4Cars founder Andrea Amico told the technology magazine Wired in June.

The state agency, governed by a five-member board, was created in November 202o after voters approved Proposition 24, the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020, which expanded privacy protection under the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018.

The agency is the first independent data protection authority in the United States to implement and enforce a state privacy act.

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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

Author

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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