Car Data Scandal Raises Repair Questions

Car Data Scandal Raises Repair Questions

Every week, we get a roundup of recent developments in Right to Repair news, courtesy of Jack Monahan and Paul Roberts from Fight to Repair, a reader-supported publication. Sign up to receive updates in your inbox. (It’s free!) Or become a premium subscriber for access to exclusive content and live events!

A report from the New York Times shows that car manufacturers, including General Motors, have been selling detailed driver behavior data without their consent, which in some cases is being used to surveil and hike up insurance rates for drivers. This is especially rich, given that car manufacturers have claimed that they can’t possibly share that very same data with car owners themselves, because it would be a security risk.

Car companies are well aware that the software on board their cars is a lucrative business. Not only are occasional features in cars now subject to paywalls, but we are also being reminded with each of these scandals that virtually every internet-connected device we use is collecting data that can then be sold.

There is an increasing trend that means that buying a car is no longer the end of your relationship with the manufacturer. Part of this new relationship is that car makers want both the right to sell the data of drivers and also withhold data in other cases that would often help consumers and independent repair shops to make repairs. Repairs made at home or by independent repairers are more difficult because car companies can now use software to continue to control vehicles after they leave the dealers’ lot.

Car companies fighting against automotive Right to Repair have long argued that they withhold information for “safety” reasons. But while companies frequently hide behind the argument they are simply prioritizing data privacy, R.J. Cross from U.S. PIRG writes that “the secretive wheeling and dealing of consumers’ personal data means that there’s a world of data breaches, identity theft and targeted scams right around the corner.”

All the while, governments are bending over backwards to negate overwhelmingly popular referendums where voters directly said yes to automotive Right to Repair. A lack of accountability and regulatory action is allowing this trend to continue, but more robust laws could reshape corporate behavior. Both Right to Repair and data privacy laws could ensure that securing personal information is a priority, not just a hollow and case-dependent promise.

More News

  • Soldered RAM is sticking around: Some repair advocates are coming out strongly against soldered RAM because it limits repair and upgrades. Soldering RAM to the motherboard of a computer, while leading to thinner laptops, means that you cannot make upgrades should you want to hold onto your laptop for longer. From gamers to environmentalists, there are many reasons why people are up in arms about the shift to this design choice. As Monica J. White at Digital Trends explains, “some of the previously top-shelf gaming laptops have now made the stealthy switch to soldered RAM”—and sometimes it’s even hard to figure out if a laptop has soldered RAM from a spec sheet.
  • Right to repair could help limit growing electronic waste: E-waste is expected to rise 30% by 2030 globally. Solutions, like design choices from manufacturers, increasing access to repairs, and lengthening software support will all be essential beyond forcing companies to sell parts and offer information on how to repair their products.
  • Apple’s model of customer lock-in: Allison Johnson at The Verge says a lack of phone sales is what has caused Apple to turn toward a model of consumer lock-in and control. Despite being such a popular phone in the U.S. the decrease in their sales is requiring the company to secure profit in other places, such as their App Store, where they levy hefty fees for the privilege to sell on their platform. Johnson says hope is to be found with legal actions from Epic Games and more recently the U.S. Department of Justice that are pushing Apple to open up its “walled garden.”