California agency probes automakers’ data privacy practices

WASHINGTON, July (Reuters) – A California state agency on Monday said it is reviewing the privacy practices of automakers and vehicle technology companies amid concerns about the growing volume of data collected by cars.

The California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA) said its Enforcement Division is making inquiries about vehicles embedded with features like location sharing, web-based entertainment, smartphone integration, and cameras. The agency declined to identify which companies it is reviewing.

“Modern vehicles are effectively connected computers on wheels. They’re able to collect a wealth of information via built-in apps, sensors, and cameras, which can monitor people both inside and near the vehicle,” said CPPA Executive Director Ashkan Soltani.

The agency said vehicle privacy considerations “are critical because these vehicles often automatically gather consumers’ locations, personal preferences, and details about their daily lives.”

Regulators around the world have raised concerns about the volume of personal data collected by vehicles that increasingly gather, store and transmit information for entertainment, performance and safety purposes.

Last year, California nonprofit Consumer Watchdog told the state’s regulator that “car data is the new gold rush of the auto industry… Automakers and third-party companies know where we drive, what we buy, eat, our texts. A whole consumer profile is created with this information to essentially sell you things.”

California has more than 35 million registered vehicles, the most of any state.

A trade group representing major automakers did not immediately comment.

In February, the Dutch personal data watchdog said it would not fine Tesla (TSLA.O) over possible privacy violations after the U.S. carmaker made changes to vehicle security cameras noting Teslas parked on the street were often filming everyone who came near the vehicle, and these images were being saved extended periods.

Chrysler-parent Stellantis in January established Mobilisights to license data to a wide range of customers, including rival carmakers, drawing on Stellantis’ connected vehicles, which are expected to total 34 million by 2030, up from around 12 million.

Mobilisights said it would operate under strict privacy safeguards, sharing only personal data with customer consent and allowing owners to opt out even after consenting.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Porter and Aurora Ellis