Government wants access to car data

As car technology gets increasingly sophisticated and vehicles become more and more automated, smart vehicles are generating a potential goldmine of data.

That includes information about the exact location of a vehicle, driver behaviour, traffic incidents and the road environment.

It can involve sensor readings and actions like braking, use of hazard lights, lane departures, speed, and even a driver’s eye movements.

It’s information the government wants to get its hands on.

The National Transport Commission has issued a discussion paper calling for policy options for government access to vehicle-generated data, saying the information can be used for network operations, investment, maintenance, planning and road safety.

It also says “unforeseen uses” might emerge as access to the data increases.

Although Australia currently has a relatively low percentage of highly automated cars on the road, that is expected to grow.

According to Austroads,  Australia’s fleet penetration rate for highly automated vehicles will be approximately 4 per cent by 2030.

The paper suggests that demand for data is already there, with Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads already indicating that more than 500 internal stakeholders have expressed an interest in using vehicle-generated data.



Surveillance capitalism

The paper says vehicles are increasingly capturing a range of useful data about road infrastructure and how cars are used.

The auto industry is also rapidly expanding the ability of vehicles to connect and share data via V2X and related technologies.

At present that data is owned by the car makers and telematics providers, many of whom are already eyeing it in terms of a commercial by-product.

It’s a system described by US academic Shoshana Zuboff as “surveillance capitalism”.

“Generators of vehicle-generated data are aware of the high commercial value of data and are preparing market-based services in response to transport agency business needs,” the paper says.

The NTC paper cites estimates from McKinsey & Company that car data monetisation at a global scale could come to as much as $US750 billion by 2030.

The EU has a Memorandum of Understanding on the exchange of vehicle generated data, but Australia has no formal framework for such access and no incentive for car makes to provide it, the NTC says.

The paper recommends the government works with industry to develop a non-commercial data sharing partnership to avoid a “fragmented and burdensome” situation in the future.

“We propose … Industry and government should collaborate on identifying opportunities for exchanging road safety data and adopt a principle of non-commercial sharing or exchange,” the paper says.

The partnership should “identify opportunities for exchanging vehicle-generated data as well as develop standards and consider proof of concept”.


Potential sources of vehicle-generated data, NTC discussion paper.


Privacy concerns

The NTC paper says access to this data can improve transport systems and save lives on the road.

But it says the vehicle industry is also reluctant to share data with governments because of concerns over how it could be used.

“Industry reluctance is founded on valid concerns of government use of data detrimentally impacting on them or their customers,” the paper says.

“This could include enforcement or compliance action, inadvertent release of commercial intellectual property and customer privacy.”

Apart for privacy concerns, there are other barriers to be overcome in accessing vehicle-generated data, the NTC says, including costs, clarity of purpose and the technical ability of transport agencies to work with the data.

Submissions on the paper are open until July 3.

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