Whose what belongs here? About the challenges in handling vehicle data


Manufacturers who collect information about the users of their vehicles today have a good chance of winning the big business of tomorrow. How difficult it is to reconcile all interests in the process was demonstrated at a symposium of the European Automobile Club Association (EAC) in Brussels.

Whether everything was really better in the past is something that everyone can answer for themselves. But there is general agreement that much was different in the past. For example, when driving a car. While vehicles were once only a means of transport for people and goods, with extensive sensor technology and online networking they are now increasingly producers and carriers of data. These are used to record the location, for maintenance instructions to the workshop or brand-specific services, to name three examples of many. Vehicle manufacturers have the first access to this data, because they control the technical structure of the vehicle. This is not good for the consumer, because so much happens without his action or even knowledge. This is the opinion of the EAC, of which the ARCD has been a founding member since 2008. As an interest group, the EAC represents the interests of a total of around three million motorists in Europe. The association is calling for the creation of uniform rules for greater freedom of decision for vehicle owners and users, and has taken a clear position: "The driver is the measure of all vehicle data," says a five-page EAC position paper on data handling in the networked car. To underpin its demand at European level, the EAC brought together key decision-makers in European transport policy for a panel discussion in Brussels at a symposium at the end of November 2019. The topic: Car data - Who does OWN, HAVE and USE it?

Several Positions

"A networked car today sends 25 gigabytes of data - per hour," noted guest speaker Ismail Ertug. This corresponds to a data volume comparable to twelve and a half hours of film in HD quality. As a member of the European Parliament's Transport Committee, Ertug emphasized aspects such as data economy, transparency and the purpose of data collections in front of a full audience. In view of a current grey area, especially with regard to data storage, he affirmed: "The fact remains that regulation is needed here." In the subsequent panel discussion, chaired by moderator Werner Balsen, former Brussels correspondent of the German transport newspaper DVZ, high-ranking experts exchanged their views. Natalia Lazarova, Head of Unit at the Directorate General for Competition of the European Commission, found that the current legal situation is not yet sufficient to adequately meet all the challenges of a potentially competition-inhibiting handling of data. Such an inhibition occurs, for example, when third parties are denied access to such data. To this extent, the Commission supported the development of appropriate regulations. Anne Federle from the Brussels law firm Bird & Bird is also involved in EU antitrust law. In her opinion, it is difficult to convince a competition authority that a vehicle manufacturer is violating antitrust law. The manufacturers are very sensitive to the gaps they can fill. Even a possible infringement that might be detected would not necessarily lead to access to data for third parties. She therefore also considers a regulation in addition to antitrust law to be necessary.

Concepts Required

Francois Fischer, engineer and manager at Ertico-ITS, a kind of think tank on the subject, looked at the issues raised by the symposium from the perspective of the industry. The manager highlighted three areas in which data played a role: mobility with all networked services, vehicles and the energy question, for example when it comes to charging vehicles. However, he rejected the idea of a standardized telematics platform with open interfaces for third parties, as proposed by the EAC in view of the lack of regulations: "I do not believe that we can establish a common platform. It is important to develop concepts for sharing data between stakeholders, but not to force the whole thing."

Control instead of Possession

Dimitri Vergne of the European Consumers' Organisation BEUC brought up a new aspect for some experts: "Instead of talking about the possession of data, BEUC prefers to talk about access to and control over data." This fine distinction has a great influence on political and regulatory decisions and is what needs to be discussed with the industry. At the same time, he argued that consumers should in principle be given fair access to their vehicle data. He considered the known regulations under competition law to be insufficient with regard to the handling of vehicle data. "We may need sector-specific legislation for networked and autonomous cars."

Finally, Jan Bambas of the European Federation of Independent Wholesalers and Retailers of Motor Vehicle Spare Parts FIGIEFA criticised the foreclosure by the concept of the so-called Extended Vehicle favoured by the manufacturers: "This is a system that monopolises access to data. It doesn't give everyone the same opportunities." This urgently needs to change in order to offer independent and competitive services.

In his conclusion of the symposium, EAC President Bernd Opolka summed up the course of the discussion: "I believe that today's debate also leaves motorists in astonishment." Referring to the event's motto, he concluded by demanding: "It is clear to us that we must use the instruments we have today, such as antitrust law and the possibility of regulation by Brussels, so that we can come to an answer to this difficult question, which is still unresolved today, as soon as possible."


Source: The original German text by Thomas Schreiner, ARCD, Wem gehört hier was? Über die Herausforderungen im Umgang mit Fahrzeugdaten, 2 January 2020; ARCD-Clubmagazin Auto&Reise 1/2020, p. 24-25, available here. See also, EAC newsblog, 13 January 2020.

Translation into English by Florian Schmitz, EAC.