The idea behind George Orwell’s novel, 1984, that we are all being watched, is one that has widely been explored – for example the reality TV show Big Brother, science-fiction film the Truman Show or in the on-going debate about online privacy, but should we now start to worry about who is monitoring us when we are in our own vehicles? – particularly as the European Parliament has recently passed a law requiring all new cars made after 2018 to be fitted with a tracking device.
More and more people are becoming increasingly worried about the use of telematics and how information is being used. Telematics is not a new technology as it has been widely used for the past decade in commercial vehicles, by Formula One teams and emergency services – but more recently the technology is being rolled out into passenger road cars and you may not even be aware of it.
Telematics is typically known as an ‘Ingenie Box’ or a ‘Black-Box’. It is a self-contained unit the size of a smartphone which includes a GPS unit allowing your location to be monitored, a high frequency motion sensor which captures how the car is being driven and the vehicle’s performance, and a SIM card allowing data to be transmitted.
The ‘box’ is commonly perceived to act as a safety feature, and indeed it is with useful functions that can provide the police/emergency services with exact vehicle location in the case of the vehicle being stolen or a serious accident. For this reason the technology has proven very popular by insurance companies particularly in the USA and Canada. However the video below, which has been made by the European Association of Aftermarket Parts distributor at FIGIEFA, demonstrates other ways in which this technology is reportedly being used and why independent companies should be worried by the new developments.
The new advances could mean that the current level playing field between manufacturer’s dealerships and independent repair and servicing companies will be a thing of the past as consumers will no longer be given the opportunity to decide for themselves where their car is to be serviced or repaired.
Real life scenario of a BMW new model owner – The latest BMW vehicles contain the tracking feature:
Joe owns a BMW M3, on his way to work a warning light flashed up on his dashboard and seconds later a phone starts ringing through the car’s radio system. Joe answers the call through the car’s Bluetooth and is connected to a representative at BMW who informs him that he has an airbag fault – but rest assured the representative at BMW has already booked the car in with a BMW dealer who will collect the car from Joe’s place of work if preferred – as BMW could see Joe was already travelling there.
Shortly after Joe arrives at work the representative collects Joe’s BMW M3 and leaves him with a hire vehicle to use for the following three days whilst the airbag issue is repaired.
The technology sounds impressive and very useful, however when a vehicle is no longer in warranty Joe’s scenario could prove to be an extremely expensive option in comparison to choosing to take the car to a local independent garage – or indeed simply having the option to ‘shop around.’
The very real potential fear for owners along with independent garages and even specialist tuners is whether this on-board technology will be able to detect where and when any work has taken place and if it is not directly through the manufacturer, potentially being able to send a vehicle into limp mode on the grounds of ‘safety issues’ for not using a manufacturer’s own parts – meaning if you were to own a BMW, for example, as in Joe’s case you would only ever be able to use BMW parts on your vehicle, purchased directly from BMW or a BMW certified garage. It could also mean that the manufacturer may be able to detect any ‘enhancing modifications’ such as remapping or non-approved exhausts fitted.
An even greater risk to the consumer is the risk of data being leaked, allowing locations, habits and behaviour potentially falling into the hands of not only companies but criminals. The European Commissioners have issued a statement in response to these growing concerns stating:
“The system is… inactive under normal circumstances… Only when a serious car crash happens (will it) establish a call to the 112 (emergency number) – then it starts to function.”
Emma Carr, Director of the Big Brother Watch pressure group, has publicly commented on the new ruling stating:
“There is a clear risk that once this device is installed, drivers will lose total control over who has access to their data and how they will use it …Forcing drivers to have a device installed in their car, which is capable of recording and transmitting exactly where and when they are driving, is totally unacceptable.”
For the time being it appears that the majority of the British public are either unaware of this latest ruling or perhaps are not particularly phased – but if FIGIEFA’s video is correct the development will have detrimental effects to much of the automotive aftermarket as we know it.