fact or fiction: do you know what data your car is sharing about you?

Connected cars are turbo-boosting everything about our driving experiences. We now have the luxury of tapping into the same 24/7 connectivity we rely on off the road when we get behind the wheel. What many people don't realize is that all the bells and whistles that make your commute smoother and your car trips more comfortable are also capturing data. Lots of data.

If your car was built after 2014, it's beaming back info to carmakers, and possibly others, about your driving patterns, the roads you travel, the music you listen to and pretty much everything your car does. This is happening constantly, at a potential rate of 25GB per hour — that's like 200 Netflix movies a day, all in HD!

Today’s connected cars have dozens of sensors capturing data while you drive

Locations of car sensors that collect data

Sensors:

General Radar Camera Alert

When Esurance interviewed consumers shopping for a new car about data and its use, it became obvious that many of us don't have a clear understanding about what's myth and what's reality. To help separate fact from fiction, we asked car technology experts to set the record straight on some of the top areas of confusion and concern.

fact or fiction? shared data could make driving safer for you and your family

One of the biggest promises of shared car data is that it can help inform automakers, governments and technology companies about how to make us and our families safer on the road. Each year, the average American drives more than 13,000 miles. That offers a lot of time and opportunity to gather useful intel.

Today, we already rely on data from our car's systems to monitor our gas mileage, alert us when a tire's pressure is low and maybe tell us where the nearest gas station is. Soon, with enhanced connectivity, those same data sources will monitor your teenage son's speed remotely, allow your car to adjust itself to your personal preferences (set your radio station, read your emails to you, adjust your seat and mirrors automatically), and even help determine who is at fault in an accident.

Car companies also use this data to improve their cars and discover potential manufacturing defects. "The promise [of all this data] is a much better experience — keeping us safer," says David Bader, chair of Georgia Tech's School of Computational Science and Engineering.

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You decide: myth or reality?

Thanks to new safety features, driving is safer now than 10 years ago.

Myth. And also a reality. New features can make us safer, but they can also cause new distractions — and that can lead to accidents. Even with integrated infotainment systems and some enhanced safety features, many of us still use our smartphones to navigate, order ahead to the coffee shop, and listen to podcasts. Fortunately, sensors in cars are collecting data that carmakers can use to develop features that will improve car safety in the coming years. A few years from now, connected cars may take the phone completely out of the equation, effectively reducing accidents. Check out our recent report on distracted driving for more details.

How others have responded

66% myth
34% reality

The ability to process a lot of data also means cars will be able to do surprising things like monitor our health. "If we are getting into a potential road rage situation, the car could change the temperature, make the seat more comfortable and put on softer music," says Bader.

For example, if equipped with sensors to read your heart rate, body temperature, and blood-alcohol level, a self-driving car could take you to the hospital if you're having a heart attack or prevent you from driving if you're intoxicated. That data exchange may expose your personal information, but it could save your life and the lives of others — a tradeoff some consider minor, by comparison.

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You decide: myth or reality?

Only newer, ‘expensive’ cars are connected.

Myth. Connected cars have been around since as early as 1996, when GM introduced OnStar® for emergency assistance. But even if your car has no obvious connected elements, it's still sending out data. "Most, if not all, vehicles manufactured since 2014 have the ability to track you over a proprietary network designed by the manufacturer, for the manufacturer," says Andrea Campbell of MyCarMyData, which is pushing for safe and secure data sharing.

How others have responded

66% myth
34% reality

The next step is the connected, autonomous car. By eliminating human error entirely, autonomous vehicles could reduce the number of wrecks in the U.S. by up to 90 percent, saving $190 billion each year, not to mention thousands of lives.

The verdict: Fact. In the long term, shared data will make driving safer.

Experts agree that shared car data will make us safer down the road, with data from today's connected cars informing the development of driverless technology. But with new features come new temptations to be distracted on the road, so today, we're still at the mercy of our own driving habits. Once safety-enhancing data-based technology is in the majority of cars, experts expect to see reductions in the number of accidents.

fact or fiction? shared data will lead to safer roads

Our data isn't just being used to make us safer inside our cars, but also to make the roads around us safer. Some connected cars can "talk" to each other and soon will be able to talk to the roads. Known as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication, these capabilities will let our cars see around corners and through buildings, so they can stop automatically to avoid situations like a truck running a red light or a kid chasing a ball into the street.

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You decide: myth or reality?

Connected cars will make roads better.

Reality. Connected cars will soon communicate with roadside infrastructure, sending data about problems (like pot holes, bad weather, and accidents). That information will be relayed through in-car alerts. Simultaneously, it will be sent to local agencies responsible for making repairs or providing emergency services. What's needed to implement this technology on a wide scale is roadside infrastructure, such as cellular-enabled black boxes attached to street signs, bridges, and traffic lights.

How others have responded

66% myth
34% reality

Also, with V2I technology, "the idea of a traffic jam goes away," says tech futurist Gray Scott, explaining that cars will be rerouted automatically based on their destination, keeping traffic moving at the right pace and spaced to prevent accidents.

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You decide: myth or reality?

Data collected from cars is trivial compared to other sources.

Myth. Data is the new "oil" and all our cars' data could be worth $1.5 trillion a year by 2030. According to John Ludwig, president of Xevo AI Group, which develops software for the automotive industry, "The data may be more valuable than the car itself as it gets monetized." One of the ways manufacturers could monetize the data is through in-car services. In simple terms, there will soon be app stores for our cars, which will then require drivers to either pay for the apps, or use them free, allowing their data to be sent to the provider.

How others have responded

66% myth
34% reality

The biggest hurdle in gathering data to improve our roads and cars is bandwidth. Our current networks can't support the data our cars are able to generate. "Today we have essentially a string connecting our car's data stream to a tower," says Georgia Tech's Bader. "In the future, we will have fire hoses."

Technologies such as 5G wireless and Dedicated Short Range Communications — V2V wireless communication already in many new cars — will allow cars to communicate with each other quickly and reliably. This exchange of information between cars will enable the leap to driverless vehicles. "It's once we get to fully or highly autonomous connected vehicles that we will see the greatest safety benefits of connected cars," says Matthew Channon, author of The Law and Driverless Cars.

The verdict: Fact. The data gathered and shared by connected cars will make roads safer.

Experts agree that creating "smart" infrastructure will bring the greatest benefits of connectivity. That means digital road signs that adapt to changing traffic patterns and a new web of communication between cars on the road. Getting there is another story — we first need to build infrastructure to transmit all the data and then analyze and use that information effectively to improve our roads.

fact or fiction? your data is at risk of being exposed — or exposing you

Now that manufacturers can gather so much information about driving habits, in-car behaviors, and even the roads, two big concerns for drivers are privacy and security.

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You decide: myth or reality?

My data is being collected even though I never gave permission for that.

Reality. Currently, there are no specific laws in the United States that govern the use of our cars' data, and you may have given up your privacy rights when you signed the contract on your new car. "We are in the gold rush of data right now — it's basically who can dig it up first," says tech expert Gray Scott. In 2017, two Democratic senators introduced the SPY Car Act to establish federal standards to secure cars and protect drivers' privacy, but it hasn't yet gained traction.

How others have responded

66% myth
34% reality

Shared car data is ultimately personal information about drivers. Nikki, an Esurance interviewee who recently purchased two new cars for her family, questioned whether her data could be sold to third-parties. Likewise, Kevin, who was trading in his 2003 model for a connected car, worried about his privacy being infringed upon: "If the data for the safety features can be accessed, who's to say they aren't accessing anything I connect to Bluetooth?" And Kristen, who was buying a new car, wondered if data about hard braking and speed could affect her insurance premium.

In an attempt to address these concerns, lawmakers are looking at ways to give consumers more control of their data. The EU's General Data Protection Regulation act, which goes into effect March 2018, may be one model to follow. The key here is consumer choice — that drivers know and approve of who gets their data.

For example, if you're a good driver, you may want your insurer to know that. "At the moment, all my insurer knows about me is my age and that I haven't had any accidents," says Channon, an insurance law expert. "It doesn't know that I drive the speed limit, but it could. There are benefits to be had by sharing data."

Right now, the effect of sharing your data with your insurance company is a potentially lower premium. But it's important to be informed about what you're sharing, says tech expert Scott.

"I don't think the general public realizes exactly how much data is already being collected," he says, citing data related to geo-tagging, geo-fencing, car speed, car maintenance, and driving behavior.

Currently, there's nothing to stop your carmaker from selling that data to the highest bidder.

Hacking is another worry. While most experts agree that the likelihood is very low, it's still a possibility. Fortunately, data security is a field that's growing exponentially along with connected cars. Each time a data breach occurs, engineers take those lessons and apply them to the next innovation. This ultimately leads to stronger, safer cars.

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You decide: myth or reality?

A hacker could disable my brakes.

Reality. Carmakers and tech companies are working hard on connected car security, but we may never be 100 percent safe from hackers. Just as in any other part of our lives where we share data, like making a purchase online, the overall benefits potentially outweigh the damage from isolated incidents.

How others have responded

% myth
% reality

Finally, there's the concern that data from connected cars will cost us. Currently, increased costs have more to do with the value of the vehicles than the data itself. What used to be a $300 bumper replacement after a minor fender bender might now cost more, due to the cost of replacing backup cameras and sensors. But as Eric Brandt, Esurance's head of claims, points out, even if individual incidents may cost more initially, overall costs will come down because all this new technology will lead to far fewer accidents.

The verdict: Fact (but context matters). Your data is at risk of being exposed.

Any time we put information in the cloud, there's a risk of it being hacked. Until we pass laws in the U.S. that govern how this information can be used, it's unclear to consumers what car companies are doing with their data. Still, carmakers know that a news-making hack is devastating to business and are making efforts to protect data accordingly. Right now, driving a connected car is safe, can improve your driving experience, and could even save you money on insurance.

how is data forming the future of driving?

In the coming decades, autonomous, driverless cars will become so commonplace that we may not even own our cars. "In the future, connected autonomous vehicles will be literally taxis," says Channon. "You walk outside your door, you hail it, and it takes you where you want to go."

Scott agrees and sees an Artificial Intelligence assistant (think Siri or Google Assistant) tethered to us, bringing our music, messages, and preferences with us from car to home to office.

The future of data sharing is a connected system, "a hive mind for automobiles," says Bader. That connectivity will not only serve our individual needs but the greater good by transforming our lives on the road, for the better.

Watch our video to see more reactions to how connected car data is collected and used.

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