Exclusive: Consumer Groups Pressure Congress to Stop Car Companies from Spying on Americans

American family in a car

A coalition of over a dozen consumer rights, data privacy advocates, and free market organizations has signed a letter encouraging the House Innovation, Data, and Commerce subcommittee to give car owners control of the data generated by their vehicles. The groups warn that “the collection, storage, and usage of the vast amounts of personal data generated by their vehicles” is a danger to consumers, especially with the looming threat of China.

“[Autonomous vehicles] are equipped with various sensors, cameras, and communication systems that continuously capture and transmit information about their surroundings and occupants,” wrote the letter’s signatories, which included Phyllis Schlafly Eagles President Ed Martin, FreedomWorks economist Stephen Moore, and Citizen Power Initiatives for China President Dr. Jianli Yang.

James Farley, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., speaks during a launch event for the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning all-electric truck at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan, U.S., on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.  Photographer: Emily Elconin/Bloomberg

China - Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at a luncheon hosted by the Mayor's office. (Photo by Tim Rue/Corbis via Getty Images)

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at a luncheon hosted by the Mayor’s office. (Photo by Tim Rue/Corbis via Getty Images)

“As the nation approaches a future where autonomous vehicles may become an integral part of its transportation landscape, it is crucial that Congress address the significant concerns surrounding the collection, storage, and usage of the vast amounts of personal data generated by their vehicles, particularly autonomous vehicles.”

Carmakers have come under fire for assuming control of this data, which some analysts and pundits argue can become just as if not more valuable than that aggregated and sold by Big Tech. Many privacy advocates believe the data collected by vehicles is more personal than that collected from their web searching and browsing. Modern cars have sensors, recorders and microphones that constantly collect real-time data on where they drive, what they say and how they drive.

Automakers have not been shy in announcing their plans to monetize this data, which these consumer advocates believe should be drivers’ property.

“The issue in the vehicle, see, is: we already know and have data on our customers,” former Ford CEO Jim Hackett said in a Freakonomics podcast. “We’ve never ever been challenged on how we use that. And that’s the leverage we’ve got here with the data.”

In addition to the concerns carmakers’ ownership of this data presents to user privacy and private property rights, leading U.S.-China analysts have expressed worry that automakers having control of it could bolster the power of the China’s Communist Party.

“Chinese automakers like Volvo and Lotus must comply with the same Military-Civil Fusion laws that TikTok and other problem Chinese apps must follow,” Citizen Power Initiatives for president Dr. Jianli Yang, one of the letter’s signatories, wrote in The Hill. “That means the same data security concerns apply but with even more in-depth personal in play, from when they leave the house to their driving patterns and histories.

Dr. Yang also suggested  that U.S. automakers’ ownership of this personal user information could present equally damaging effects to the delicate balance of power between the U.S. and China.

“Over the last year, API attacks in the automotive industry have surged by over 380 percent, and 34 percent of auto employees admitting their company receives more security threats now than two years ago,” Dr. Yang continued. “China is one of the global leaders in API attacks, and U.S. attorneys have already warned automakers to watch out for the country’s theft of their personal information.”

The letter is addressed to the leadership  leadership of the Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee, chairman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Vice Chair Tim Wahlberg (R-MI), and Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Also copied on the letter were House Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-FL), Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-TX), and the members of the full House and Senate Commerce panels.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. He is the author of #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election. Follow him on Twitter @AllumBokhari


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