The OnStar telematics system used by General Motors is ... The OnStar telematics system used by General Motors is one that's under scrutiny for how it collects and transmits sensitive driver data. (Photo: GM).
One week after a government report detailed how car companies keep data on the whereabouts of millions of drivers, one of the nation's leading motor clubs is urging car companies to better protect consumer privacy.

AAA said Thursday it would push the nation's leading car manufacturers to be more transparent in the way they handle customer's data.

"The data that today can be routinely collected by cars includes some of the most sensitive data that can be collected about a person, including information about their precise location and driving habits," said Bob Darbelnet, AAA's CEO and president.

Many connected features in today's vehicles, such as turn-by-turn directions and real-time traffic information make it possible for car companies to collected information that once would have been impossible. Approximately 20 percent of the new cars sold this year contain features that transmit data outside the vehicle.

Questions on how such data is collected and stored by car companies emerged last week after a report from the Government Accountability Office found that, while automakers had taken some steps to protect privacy, they had taken others that made it difficult for motorists to understand how the companies used that data.

Those concerns were accentuated later in the week when Ford vice president Jim Farley told a crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show, "We know everyone who breaks the law. We know when you are doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing." He later backpedaled from the statement.

Half of the companies surveyed by the GAO did not adequately describe the purpose for sharing location data and the companies did not allow consumers to request their data be deleted, according to that report.

AAA's consumer-rights platform urges reform of those shortcomings. The motor club wants businesses and the government to be more transparent about the collection and use of vehicle data, and to ensure consumers can decide how that data is shared.

"Customers should not be forced to relinquish control as a condition of purchasing or leasing a vehicle or of receiving a connected-vehicle service," the statement says.

AAA's proposal for a consumer-rights bill also wants car manufacturers to take precautions that protect vehicle data systems and services against hackers. Security breaches have become a big concern for automakers, as hackers have already infiltrated cars and demonstrated they can manipulate engine, throttle and steering controls.

But the same systems that leave cars vulnerable also provide benefits such as improving crash-response times, mechanical diagnostics and integrated navigation.

"Connected cars can dramatically improve the driving experience, but companies must be responsible in their use of consumer information," Darbelnet said.

U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) had asked the GAO to review privacy in the auto industry and says he may reintroduce legislation that regulates location data later this year.

"Our privacy laws haven't kept pace with these enormous advances," he said. "This report shows that Minnesotans and people across the country need much more information about how the data are being collected, what they're being used for and how they're being shared with third parties."

Such concerns will become even more acute in the future as vehicle-to-vehicle communications and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications become part of the everyday driving experience on U.S. roads.

AAA said its announcement Thursday came one week after its executives addressed privacy concerns in the public comments of a Federal Trade Commission hearing last week.

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.


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