Automakers Don't Think Car Owners Should Be Able to Access Over-the-Air Data

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Some car repairs can be made at home, such as removing rust spots or fixing small cracks in the windshield. For larger repairs, it's best to take your vehicle to a professional mechanic. Nowadays, mechanics are trained to fix powertrain issues as well as advanced electronics.
Up until recently, that still didn't include telematics data that connected cars use. According to The Drive, Massachusetts citizens will vote on adding those types of repairs to the Right to Repair Act. However, automakers argue that car owners aren't entitled to this data.
A person accessing information on a computer from a car.
Cars collect more information than ever.

What is the Right to Repair Act?

In the early ‘90s, cars were built with sophisticated computer systems to begin monitoring emissions for the first time. The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments stipulated that automakers had to release the tools to service these computers to independent auto shops.
Eventually, computers were used to control other important components of the vehicle, like advanced safety equipment.
Although similar in design, every automaker creates its own computer system with slightly different inner workings. Lawmakers quickly realized that if independent dealers didn't know how to fix this technology, it could lead to problems.
Versions of the Right to Repair Act began passing in certain states, beginning in the early 2000s. Under these laws, automakers are required to provide chain and independent auto shops with the necessary tools to fix their unique vehicles.
The bill is backed by several auto repair organizations, including AAA and the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association.
It also gives drivers the freedom to choose which repair shop can service their vehicle. There are many financial or geographic factors that go into someone's choice when choosing a mechanic. It's only fair that drivers who buy cars with their hard-earned cash should be able to choose who fixes them.
Of course, recalled vehicles should always be serviced at their associated dealership. However, regular maintenance or generic repairs can likely be fixed at any auto shop.

The stance of Massachusetts residents

On November 3rd of last year, a new addition to the Massachusetts right-to-repair laws received massive support from voters. 75% of people believed that drivers and independent mechanics should also have access to telematics data on their cars. That data is often used for safety reasons, such as BMW's Connected Drive.
For example, it can connect with other cars to determine real-time traffic data and potentially help you avoid congestion. Connected cars can automatically contact emergency services in the event of an accident.
This technology is also used for remote access capabilities, such as using digital keys or adjusting the climate settings from your phone.

Why are automakers so opposed to the referendum?

The referendum is getting major pushback from a trade group called the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. The automakers associated with this group say that making this data accessible violates existing laws and creates cybersecurity concerns. Automakers would have to disable important safety features, including occupant crash protection and electronic stability control.
Previous laws state that the driver has to control these components, but an overwrite would allow them to be controlled with remote access. Automakers voiced their concerns that an unsavory party could take control of someone's vehicle and cause the driver harm.
Supporters of the referendum argue that it's impossible to shield cybersecurity from those who truly wish ill will on the user. Additionally, its opposition has been funded with millions of dollars from opposing automakers. Some speculate that this is just an attempt to gatekeep certain vehicle innovations.