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Last week there was an interesting question and opinion put forward by Keith Crain of Automotive News.  His position was that determining who owns vehicle generated data is becoming more and more complicated.  And it will get worse!


Challenges are certainly going to be created around the concept of data ownership.  Courts have made an attempt to decide…they decided in favor of the customer in most cases. But I agree with Crain…probably not a closed book.


Let’s think about a few scenarios.  First, every vehicle produced for the last couple of decades has what is in effect a “black box”.  This records many data points in the last few seconds before a vehicle crash. Who owns that data? It could be potentially in criminating…and we have the Fifth Amendment prohibiting self-incrimination.  If the customer owns that data, that data could be off limits.  On the other hand when drivers secure an insurance policy they waive their right to privacy in the narrow process of crash investigation…meaning they give up their right to privacy (implied consent is the legal term) of that black box data in exchange for the insurance policy.  Insurance companies can and do use that date to determine fault, and “amount” of fault, or to determine if insurance fraud is in play. Not simple, but straightforward on this data ownership question.  The vehicle owner is the rightful owner of that data, unless they have given insurance companies their implied consent to provide that data!


But what about data streaming from sensors on vehicles? Can it be gathered and used by manufacturers and suppliers to predict service needs or failures? Can it be collected and used to improved design and quality?  It has been clear that data has value…I wonder if such data, perhaps rightfully owned by the vehicle owner, can be provided to the manufacturers or suppliers in exchange for something tangible in return…money, incentives of some kind, other consideration?  I believe such data is invaluable in improving quality, design and prediction…but should the owner of a vehicle operating and generating that valuable data share in the value creation?  This is certainly a point to ponder and not quite to simple!  Well maybe it is to me…but!


Then there is the matter of self-driving vehicles. Wow…this one really gets complicated. If a collision occurs with a driverless vehicle it may be difficult to determine what went wrong sand assign fault with no human driving.  Who owns the data that “could” determine if the system designed by the supplier is at fault?  Who owns the data that “could” determine if the manufacturer is at fault?  Keith Crain asks a very provocative question…”Does the operator of a self-driving vehicle have a responsibility to stay in control even if the vehicle is on auto pilot?  How does data ownership play into that question?


The question of who is responsible is a huge one?  We will address that in my next blog.

It will be fascinating to see how our legal system deals with the complexity of data ownership and “how it can be used”.


And we are only in the infancy of data creation and the related problem of “ownership” from automobiles!

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  1. Garnet Mason

    Good day Mr.Stolle,

    I was in Auto service at the dealership level for many years and am now in heavy trucks and equipment.

    These trucks and equipment use, for the most part, a CanBus system called J1939. Each sensor on the system (ie: an ABS wheel sensor) is called a node. J1939 grants an address to every node on the system that requests one.

    I have recently learned that now some node addresses will now be proprietary – that is to say – the “ABC Truck company” will have exclusive set(s) of node addresses. This now makes it possible for only scanners that come from the ABC Truck company will be able to read/decipher any codes set and/or stored in the ECM. This will force customers to have no choice but to go to the dealer to have a code deciphered if a warning light is displayed on the dash.

    If the data stored in the system is exclusively proprietary, then it seems to me the question of data ownership is moot. The data stored in the ECM (once acquired by the dealership scanning tool)will belong to the dealer – and by extension – the manufacturer.

    Seems the waters have gotten a bit more muddied… 😉

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    1. Larry Stolle Post author

      Really calls out how much the legal community can negatively impact things.  Personally, I am in complete agreement with your points…however, more than anything else this is crying for a solution…if we don’t solve it with legislation the litgation will damage our world beyond repair…this can extend everywhere in our connect world. 

      This situation has already been given deep circumspect thinking and at least we realize the “problem”.  The car companies are right to a point but the unintended consequences are profound!

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