That means no automatic emergency calls if the car crashes, no wireless notifications from the dealer about maintenance problems and no option to remotely start the car and fire up the heater. (Don’t judge. It’s cold in Massachusetts.)
Nathan White, CitySide’s general manager, said his staff warns car shoppers that features like those requiring wireless transmission don’t work on new Subaru models sold in the state.
The lack of those features is a “conversation we have to have with the customer,” White said. “To be honest with you, it’s a couple of percent a month” in lost vehicle sales.
Subaru crippled its technology over a state law intended to let people share their car’s wireless repair information with any service shop — not only the authorized dealer.
Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved the law in 2020 but automakers have fought it in court ever since.
Two of the companies, Subaru and Kia, have responded by turning off remote access features in new vehicles in the state. Subaru declined to comment. Kia didn’t respond to questions.
The Massachusetts law, and a similar one that Maine voters approved in a landslide this week, show our desire to influence what happens to the reams of data our cars collect.
The tactics of Subaru and Kia also expose that when your phone, car, television, doorbell or sneakers are wirelessly connected, you never fully own them. The manufacturer does.
That power can be useful or harmful. Your smartphone gets regular safety updates wirelessly. Or the manufacturer of your printer might remotely disable it when you use off-brand ink.
And your car that might track how fast you drive, when you slam the brakes and everywhere you go can use the data against you — or shut down useful features entirely.
The impasse over who controls your car data
The Massachusetts and Maine laws could let a car owner send an in-dash warning about worn brake pads to a service shop of her choice to schedule repairs. Right now a car might transmit that information only to the car manufacturer or dealership.
Automakers say they oppose the state laws because sensitive information from your car is at risk if any repair shop has access.
The automakers’ lobbying group has also said that the laws aren’t needed because repair shops already have access to necessary maintenance and diagnostic tools and information.
Several experts told me that the automakers are mostly wrong.
They said there are ways for companies to make secure, remotely transmitted software and diagnostic data in a standard format that could be accessible to service shops.
Joshua Siegel, a Michigan State University engineering professor, said this isn’t a simple task and that car manufacturers are doing a reasonable job in trying to comply with the spirit of a first-of-its-kind law in Massachusetts.
Backers of the Massachusetts and Maine laws say that while wirelessly transmitted car information may not be essential for many repairs today, it’s becoming more so as cars transform into smartphones on wheels.
They say if wireless repair information stays exclusive to the car’s manufacturer and dealers, you may pay more for repairs and other services.
Regardless of which side you believe, Massachusetts hasn’t followed through with a law that 75 percent of voters wanted.
Subaru and Kia car buyers in Massachusetts are bearing the immediate consequences, including losing out on features available to car owners in every other state.
Automakers opposed the new Maine law, too, potentially resulting in frustration for more new car buyers. About 84 percent of Maine voters said yes to this week’s car data ballot measure.
Car companies’ opposition to the vehicle data laws highlights how much information is spewing from our cars and how little we control what happens to it.
Data used for maintenance warnings, emergency support and wireless software updates can help us. But does any car need to constantly squeal to the manufacturer about where you drive and how fast, the text messages on your phone and your preference for McDonald’s?
Siegel from Michigan State said people benefit from at least some of that data collection, which car companies might use to design better and more reliable cars.
At CitySide Subaru, White hopes that automakers find a way to let car owners provide remote vehicle maintenance data to any service shop. He knows the result could be fewer people servicing their Subarus at his dealership.
“This all comes down to who owns the information,” White said. “Shouldn’t the customer have some say?”
If you felt uneasy reading about how much data your car collects about you, I encourage you to read these auto owner privacy tips from the Mozilla Foundation.
There’s a detailed set of advice for each car brand.
In general, Mozilla said that you can avoid using the smartphone app from your car brand or limit the permissions for the app on your phone.
The bad news is that “compared to all the data collection you can’t control, these steps feel like tiny drops in a massive bucket,” Mozilla said. “Plus, you deserve to benefit from all the features you pay for without also having to give up your privacy.”