The UK Information Commissioner's Office recently published a press release highlighting major shortfalls in the way data privacy is currently protected in the Internet of Things.

The ICO's concerns were based on a study carried out by 25 privacy regulators around the world, under the auspices of the Global Privacy Enforcement Network.  The study focused on devices like smart electricity meters, connected thermostats and personal fitness devices - but the issues are just as relevant to connected vehicles, and transport technology stakeholders would do well to take note.

Of the 300-plus devices covered by the report:

  • 59% didn't properly explain how users' personal information was gathered, used and shared;
  • 68% didn't fully explain how information was stored; and
  • 72% didn't tell users how to remove their information from the device.

The ICO's Head of Enforcement noted the huge potential benefits of connected technologies but warned that this "shouldn't be at the cost of our privacy.  Companies making these devices need to be clear how they're protecting customers".

He went on to pinpoint some of the crucial considerations that should be borne in mind when bringing connected technologies to market: "companies ... [should] properly consider the privacy impact on individuals before they go to market....  If consumers are nervous that devices aren't using their data safely and sensibly, then they won't use them".

This is a salutary reminder about the importance of data privacy for organisations that are developing connected vehicle technologies or planning to use the information that they produce.  Connected vehicles will generate vast amounts of data about a person’s driving habits, travel patterns and personal preferences.  Telematics devices that collect driving-related data are already widely used in the car insurance industry.

The legal backdrop is that strict new data privacy rules are on their way in Europe, which will be backed up by potentially eye-watering fines.  But as well as pure legal compliance requirements, market pressures will mean that manufacturers, software developers and other players in the connected vehicles value chain need to take privacy seriously.  Users will prefer vehicles that give them confidence that their privacy will be respected - so organisations that integrate data privacy into all stages of design and operation will enjoy a major competitive advantage.