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London - Thousands of Europe's drivers are being spied on by their cars and from 2018 every vehicle sold could alert advertisers and others to their habits and locations, a European motoring organisation is warning.

The FIA has launched a campaign urging greater safeguards for the use of information on drivers gathered by tracking devices that will soon become compulsory in all new cars. A survey of 12 000 people in 12 countries, including Britain, found that 90 percent want to own their own car data.

Andrea Campbell, a spokeswoman for the FIA, said its “my car, my data” campaign reflected the fact that information gleaned from cars is not protected by European data legislation. “From 2018, every new car will have a wireless box for road safety, and there is talk of retrofitting telematics boxes into older cars,” she said.

THEY CAN TRAP YOU

“It's only a small step to offering infotainment, traffic information and rest stop promotions. Manufacturers can track you, and lock you in to their terms and conditions. So we are pushing for dedicated privacy legislation for consumer data protection, greater awareness, and a fair after-market for services.”

Data-connected cars gather information on driving styles, including the duration of journeys, speeds, acceleration and sudden braking, as well as details of where cars park, refuel or charge their batteries, and destinations entered into navigation systems.

SELLING YOUR INFO

Smart systems can identify driving violations and mobile phone use, record the number of passengers and relay information about engine trouble to emergency services. Such data can be sold to third parties.

In one example given to the FIA from the Netherlands, a man claimed he passed a service station, driving alone in his new Volvo, but when he travelled by again on a different trip with four passengers, he had a “ping” proposing: “Don't you want to take a break now?”

The German MEP Evelyne Gebhardt said: “Consumers have a right to know what data they are sharing when they drive their car. Currently, only vehicle manufacturers have access to this data. Europeans deserve to control their data. They also must have the possibility to shut off communication.”

Davi Ottenheimer, a data security expert, said car firms may use data in the same way as Google and Facebook.

“I would describe a vehicle as 100 computers transmitting 25 gigabytes per hour: that is essential metadata that says where you are going to be and when,” he said. “Companies make money from giving you something free and turning your data into revenue, and of course that is a huge privacy issue. Now all of the metadata about your life can be collected by your vehicle.”

DATA PROTECTION

A spokesman for the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) in Brussels said it had just adopted five principles of data protection. “These include transparency, customer choice, 'privacy by design', data security and the proportionate use of data,” he said. “Data protection is an issue that Europe's automakers take very seriously.” But he said cars would be covered by new privacy regulations and there was no need for particular laws to cover them.

Britain's AA motoring organisation is to join the campaign. Its president, Edmund King, said: “Connected cars offer drivers a vast array of exciting services and they can also help with breakdowns and crashes. But drivers may be unaware of just what information is collected, how it is used, who owns it and how is it protected. We support the FIA's campaign aimed at ensuring greater transparency.”

The Independent