What your car knows about you - and why

Published: 28 April 2021

► 75% of drivers don’t want monitoring devices in their cars
► Only 10% of people polled knew their car had a data agreement in place
► Almost 90% of people would not like their car to share driving habit data with third parties

Nearly three quarters of drivers don’t like the idea of monitoring devices being installed in their car, according to a poll conducted by our sister-site, Parkers.co.uk.

The research also revealed that only 19% of those polled that knew their car has a data agreement have read it.

Parkers.co.uk Editor, Keith Adams, says: “It’s true that we’re agreeing to all manner of terms and conditions on a daily basis – I shudder to think what Google knows about me – but it comes as a surprise to see so few drivers are aware of what their cars knows about them. It suggests that carmakers need to make their data gathering more transparent, their agreements easier to read, and most importantly for the 75% of drivers who don’t want it, to opt out of.”

The research from Parkers.co.uk comes off the back of an investigation into car companies’ use of ‘surveillance capitalism‘. This revealed that car manufacturers share anonymised behavioural data about its customers, like where they go and their driving style, with third party data companies.

Other poll results showed that just 10% of people knew their car had a data agreement in place already, and of them, only 19% of those people confessed to reading it.

A whopping 86% of people would not be happy for their car to share driving habit data with third-party companies.

What does this mean?

A high percentage of people don’t want their data being collected. But a low number of people understand what data is being collected.

The research from Parkers shows that regular car buyers don’t like the idea of car manufacturers profiteering from their untapped behavioural data, and that they don’t like being kept tabs on.

What is a data agreement?

Broadly it means agreeing to how and where your data can be shared. If you use Google, you’ll have signed one before.

New cars with connected services (an internet connection or an app) will have you sign up for agreement. Generally, it involves agreeing to share data about you and the car with the manufacturer, and certain third-party companies.

What data does your car collect?

This depends on what car you have, as well as how old the car is. If you can operate functions on your car (like the locks or the heating) via an app on your phone, or the car has an inbuilt sat-nav it can most likely collect data on you.

Common data collection from cars include:

  • Location information – like where you’ve been
  • Driver behaviour data – such as how hard you brake
  • Personal information – for instance, when you purchased your car
  • Marketing information – for example, when your PCP agreement is due to end

Should I be worried?

For now, we’d hazard a guess at no. But it really comes down to personal preference. On the one hand, you might think that because most of the data shared is anonymous, there’s not much to worry about.

The investigation’s experiences with car manufacturers has shown that data has been anonymised and deleted appropriately.

While on the other hand is the rise of Google and Alexa being plumbed into cars. Thanks to the connected car, in the future your digital profile will have even more precise data on you. 

Once again, whether that bothers you is personal.

What data does the future hold?

A few car makers have add-ons you can buy from inside of the car. Expect this to become the norm in the future.

For instance, BMW allows buyers to upgrade their high-beam assist digitally, without the need to visit a dealership for an upgrade.

The software and hardware are installed into the vehicle, including the buttons needed to operate it, but it requires a further payment from inside the car to work.

Buying from behind the wheel looks set to become even more lucrative with autonomous cars.

The Polestar 2 was the first car to have Google’s Android OS natively plumbed into it. Polestar’s website mentions that thanks to Android Automotive OS being native, the Polestar 2 ‘will soon be a shop you can buy things in.’

Mark Aryaeenia, CEO of vehicle data company, Verex, said: ‘Car companies are thinking far ahead into the future. For instance, an autonomous car has a captive audience. Imagine the e-commerce opportunities it has.’

By Murray Scullion

Petrolhead, journalist and traveller. Loves fast old cars and new tech. Deputy editor of sister site, Parkers.co.uk.