Global vehicle data market is expected to be worth more than £250 billion by 2030
Modern cars can collect data on everything from speed to cabin temperature and music choice
If you drive a new(ish) car, when was the last time you recall it asking for your permission to collect data on you?
Maybe it does ahead of every journey – but more likely you were asked once, probably via the infotainment screen, and it has now been assumed that whatever you do, or whatever app you download, will take its lead from that answer.
Contrast that approach with that taken by almost every website you visit now, where increasingly tough privacy laws have compelled them to seek your consent to take cookies and track your (virtual) movements on every visit. Whether you’re bothered or not, it’s not hard to understand the gulf between the two approaches and why regulators are getting increasingly vexed by the approach being taken by the car industry and its suppliers.
If you have agreed (and the vast majority do, whether knowingly or unknowingly) your car is likely being monitored from the moment that you unlock the door to the moment you relock it – and perhaps more, especially if you have an electric car, as their makers like to know when and how you charge. Your route, your speed, your cabin temperature, your music choice: it’s all being logged and sent back for supposedly anonymised analysis, not just by the people collecting it but also by whoever wants to buy it.
This is big business. Recognising their specialisms, key players in the car market typically outsource this work for a cut. Caruso, Lexis Nexis, Nrix, Vrisk and Wejo may not trip off the tongue, but collectively they’re valued at tens of billions – a reflection, of course, of how much that data you are giving for free is worth – and claim to hold trillions of data points that they can then crunch. Depending what you read, the global vehicle data market is estimated to be worth somewhere between £250 billion and £700 billion by 2030.
Should you care? The key players will point out that this data is being used for both the greater good – to inform drivers of traffic snarl-ups and accident hotspots, to gather information to inform autonomous cars – and the personal good, maybe serving you a personalised advert with a discount code for a nice coffee as you pass by. Detractors will highlight some of the cases reaching the US courts now after it became apparent that some of the firms involved were falling far short of their claims that all data was aggregated and anonymised.
Should you pause for thought, then? Certainly regulators are concerned, and the narrative from car makers and their intermediaries is changing around controls. It seems inevitable that tougher restrictions will be put in place. But until stronger rules are enforced, unless you want everyone to know about it, you might want to think twice before hitting ‘Accept All’ just so that you can get on with enjoying your new car.