In the age of interconnectedness, our cars have become more than just vehicles; they’re rolling data hubs, capable of streaming music, providing directions, and even sending messages. However, with these conveniences, a growing concern looms over the data collection practices of automotive giants like Toyota.
Recent accusations against Toyota highlight the potential sharing of such data to third parties, including insurance companies and debt collection agencies. However, Toyota is not alone in facing scrutiny for its data-handling practices.
Dr. Katharine Kemp, an expert from the Faculty of Law & Justice at the University of New South Wales, said that cars can gather data through various means, such as cameras, sensors, internet-connected systems, and even drivers’ mobile devices. However, the opacity of privacy policies leaves consumers with little clarity on what data is collected, who it’s shared with, and for what purposes.
"I think it’s an appalling way to treat consumers, to be providing essentially no privacy choices, and it emphasises that cars are the Wild West of consumer privacy,” she said. “This is a massive problem that governments, including ours, are failing to address.”
Instances like that of Mathew, a Queensland resident and Toyota customer, highlight the growing unease among consumers. Learning about Toyota’s Connected Services data collection system prompted Mathew to reconsider his purchase, expressing concerns over remote access to his car and the potential sharing of driving behaviour with insurance companies.
“The more I looked into [the policy], the way that Toyota can log into your car remotely, keep a record of all sorts of bits and pieces, and possibly share your driving behaviour with your insurance company — I just thought the whole lot outweighed the benefits,” he told ABC’s The World Today.
However, Toyota Australia maintains that customer privacy is a top priority and offers opt-out options for Connected Services. Nevertheless, disabling these services may also disable other features, presenting consumers with a dilemma between connectivity and privacy.
According to Kemp, Australia’s Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), which represents 68 brands that sell vehicles in Australia, acknowledges the importance of data protection but falls short in providing comprehensive safeguards. She argued that Australian privacy laws lag behind those of other jurisdictions, highlighting the need for regulatory reform.
“Consumer surveys have repeatedly told us that Australian consumers want more control over their personal information, and that privacy matters to them,” said Kemp. “And a big question is — where is the competition on privacy quality between car manufacturers? You just don't see it. Nobody's stepping out there and actually demonstrating that they provide better protections or better privacy choices to consumers.”
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