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Carmakers unite around privacy protections in letter

Joan Lowy Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Nineteen automakers accounting for most of the passenger cars and trucks sold in the U.S. have signed onto a set of principles they say will protect motorists’ privacy in an era when computerized cars pass along more information about their drivers than many motorists realize.

The principles were delivered in a letter Wednesday to the Federal Trade Commission, which has the authority to force corporations to live up to their promises to consumers. Industry officials say they want to assure their customers that the information that their cars stream back to automakers or that is downloaded from the vehicle’s computers won’t be handed over to authorities without a court order, sold to insurance companies or used to bombard them with ads for pizza parlors, gas stations or other businesses they drive past, without their permission.

The principles also commit automakers to “implement reasonable measures” to protect personal information from unauthorized access.

Many recent-model cars and light trucks have GPS and mobile communications technology integrated into the vehicle’s computers and navigation systems. Information on where drivers have been and where they’re going is continually sent to manufacturers when the systems are in use. Consumers benefit from alerts sent by automakers about traffic conditions and concierge services that are able to unlock car doors and route drivers around the path of a storm.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also working with automakers on regulations that will clear the way for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. The technology uses a radio signal to continually transmit a vehicle’s position, heading, speed and other information. The automakers’ principles leave open the possibility of deals with advertisers who want to target motorists based on their location and other personal data, but only if customers agree ahead of time that they want to receive such information, industry officials said in a briefing with reporters.

The automakers signing on to the principles are Aston Martin, BMW, Chrysler, Ferrari, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

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