How Consumers View Location Data Privacy: Phones Versus Cars

2020 started with several controversies about floating cellular data, or GPS location data that’s collected from mobile phones by various apps and used for marketing, advertising, and other purposes.
Then, COVID-19 happened.

Governments, scientists, and news organizations recognized the value of cellular data to measure people’s movements and adherence to social distancing measures. Initiatives have emerged in Singapore, South Korea, Germany, among other countries, to use cell phone data for contact tracing. Connected car data can also provide useful information as countries begin to open up for business. For example, here is an image of traffic in Milan in January (pre-COVID-19), March and May. 

COVID-19 Effect on Milan

Important Questions

What do consumers think about sharing their cell phone data? 

With the majority of cars sold today being connected cars and generating data, will consumers want to share their data to receive specific benefits or for the greater good? 

We Asked Drivers What They Thought

In December 2019 and January 2020, Otonomo and SBD Automotive fielded a survey of European consumers. This survey measured both consumers’ awareness of cell phone and car data collection practices and their attitudes about sharing personal and/or de-identified data. While COVID-19 may have shifted their perceptions, our survey provides insights that could guide governments and companies in designing future policies.  

European Consumers Seem to Be Open to Sharing Cell Phone Location Data

Almost our entire sample—96%—said they are aware that their smartphone captures personal data.

Location data privacy: What does my smartphone capture?

Of those who say that their smartphone captures some or all of their data:

  • Fully 90% know that location data is captured
  • 73% know that their personal details are captured
  • 21% see this level of data collection providing a window into their sensitive lifestyle preferences.

The data my smartphone captures

When asked whether they allow such data to be shared with online services and apps, about three-quarters of respondents say they allow “anonymous” data such as location to be collected.

I am OK sharing my anonymized data

… Yet Their Openness Does Not Always Translate to Car Data

However, when asked about sharing data from their cars, less than two-thirds of our European respondents (60% overall) are willing to share “anonymized” car data. This is considerably lower than the number willing to share similar data with online services or smartphone app developers.

One important factor may be awareness: 41% of our respondents did not know that data from cars can be shared with OEMs until they started taking our survey. This is quite surprising.

When it comes to sharing aggregate data for specific applications based on car data, just over half of European consumers say they are willing. This includes applications that provide significant benefits to those consumers, such as real-time traffic flow optimization and accurate maps.

I am OK sharing data for specific use cases

So what is causing European consumers to hesitate? The most common reasons cited by those who say they’re reluctant to share their car data:

  1. Trust: “I don’t trust companies to keep my data safe” (67%)
  2. Safety: “I don’t want to become a victim of identity theft” (54%),
    “I’ve heard a lot of negative things about data privacy” (47%)
  3. Transparency: “I am worried about how the data will be used” (52%),
    “I don’t want to be profiled” (43%)
  4. Previous experiences: “I’ve had problems with personal data in the past” (16%),
    “I’ve had problems with vehicle data in the past” (7%)
  5. Incentives: “I want something in return” (15%)

Transparency is the Key for Automakers and Service Providers That Use Location Data

Consumers’ lack of knowledge about car data collection practices can close their minds to the personal and societal value of the many emerging apps and services that utilize location data generated by connected cars. One small silver lining that has come from our COVID-19 experience is that consumers are seeing the value that can be created by sharing their location data. Nevertheless, almost every mainstream news article about social distancing or other applications of cell phone location data generates some number of reader comments questioning the underlying data collection practices.

Even in a global health crisis, consumers expect transparency.

According to the findings of our consumer survey:

      • Sixty percent of respondents say it’s very important to be told exactly what data is being collected, how it is being used, and by whom when deciding whether to share their data.
      • Fifty-nine percent say the trustworthiness of the company or app is very important.
      • Seventy-five percent of consumers want to be able to see the car data they are sharing, as per the GDPR right of access to data.

Automakers and the companies and government organizations that could benefit from crowd data generated by connected cars must commit to protecting consumers’ privacy. They must also be transparent with those consumers in order to maximize the utilization of this valuable data source. 

For deeper insights into what European consumers think about location data privacy and more discussion about incentives and other ways to earn consumer trust, read our full survey report.

Architected for security and privacy by design, Otonomo’s platform complies with even the most stringent data privacy regulations including GDPR and CCPA, ensuring all parties are protected and companies remain compliant across multiple geographies.

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