Carmakers plan to sell your data to the highest bidder

As you drive down the motorway, your car monitors your speed, the temperature, the harsher-than-usual acceleration and turning patterns, and your battery level.

A synthetic voice interrupts the radio to tell you that at current traffic conditions, your car will need recharging before you make it home.

A charging station ahead is offering a discount to drivers who use the coupon flashing up on the car’s giant touchscreen. While you’re there, perhaps you should purchase a salad: the pressure sensors in your seat have recorded above average measurements recently. The announcement is the conclusion of a frantic, but instant, programmatic bidding war on an advertising exchange that has been fed hundreds of pieces of driving data from your vehicle. As connected cars have proliferated, every piece of data it throws off has been sold to the highest bidder in real-time.


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To those used to the freedom and isolation of the open road, this might sound like a surveillance nightmare. But it is a future that carmakers are now considering as an electric and connectivity revolution sweeps the industry.

“Nobody sees the industry moving forward without data becoming central to it,” says Frederic Bruneteau, of Brussels-based automotive consulting group Ptolemus. “The question is not if, it’s how much money can be made with it.”

For as long as cars have included digital components, manufacturers have thought about ways to take advantage of the information, such as diagnostic readings, they can collect. But a streak of developments is now forcing the industry to take the idea more seriously. Cars are becoming packed with sensors as costs come down and as electric motors require them, and as tech-savvy consumers demand high-end electronics.

Regulation is forcing manufacturers to equip cars with SIM cards that call emergency services when they crash. And the reliability of modern vehicles means the lucrative repair side is increasingly threatened. Data could step into its place.