Clash of the opinions: Question 1 – “Right to Repair”

The “Yes” position
By Brennan Atkins
Editorial Staff

The Massachusetts “Right to Repair” initiative in 2012 gave independent auto-repair shops access to diagnostic data and safety information previously only accessible to the car manufacturers themselves. This meant that Massachusetts residents could choose to go to smaller businesses, with the aim of bolstering competition in the auto-repair industry.

Question 1 (2020) aims to transform the law to require manufacturers to include standardized open-access software for independent auto-repair shops to access telematics systems. According to the State Attorney General, telematics systems are defined as “systems that collect and wirelessly transmit mechanical data to a remote server.”

Along with this, owners of vehicles that have telematics systems would be able to access their data from a mobile device.

The “Right to Repair” laws have always been about creating a healthy competition between manufacturers and independent repair shops – it’s neither fair, nor convenient, for Massachusetts residents to feel cornered into paying manufacturers more money simply due to the fact that their local mechanic can’t access their information. 

The only people who win from a “no” vote is Big Auto. 

A person with access to this information is able to retrieve mechanical data, send commands, and perform diagnostic testing on the vehicle. Accessibility should not be seen as a privilege when purchasing a vehicle – it should be a given.

Furthermore, this seems to be against what residents voted for in the past. According to Massachusetts Elections Statistics, 85.7% of Massachusetts residents voted in favor of Question 1 (2012), and telematic systems have just replaced the revenue that manufacturers earned from charging consumers for access to diagnostic data.

In fact, trade organizations such as Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association for Global Automakers agreed to meet these requirements in all 50 states, despite Question 1 (2012) not being a federally mandated bill.

A decision for “no” could have serious consequences in the future, mostly pertaining to what automobile manufacturers will be able to get away with. We cannot allow companies to create an atmosphere in which residents have no options but to conform to whatever price manufacturers set.

One of the biggest arguments against a vote for “yes” is a concern about cybersecurity. Naturally, this anxiety is valid because telematics systems can track a vehicle’s location and perform certain tasks such as turning off the vehicle, or even braking. 

The real question is, “Why did we ever feel safe leaving this sensitive information in the hands of big manufacturers in the first place?” 

If a vote for “no” is genuinely due to a fear about cybersecurity, then we need to assess where this information is going, and if it is being used for anything other than repairs. Just because this information is in a server that may never be used doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s secure.

This is why, even if question 1 does win, we need to find out what is being done with this data, and how lawmakers plan on creating a secure environment for the future of automobiles.

The “No” Position
By Donald Halsing
Associate Editor

A “no” vote on Question 1 (2020) would not require U.S. vehicles manufactured in model year 2022 and beyond to include standardized open access software systems, which would allow independent auto-repair shops to access telematic systems and data. Only automotive manufacturers – or auto-repair shops affiliated with a manufacturer, such as those at an automotive dealership – would be able to access that data.

Those against this proposed change usually cite privacy as their deciding factor.

The Coalition for Safe and Secure Data has raised $26.5 million in contributions against the ballot initiative, mainly from automotive manufacturers. The Coalition claims approving this ballot question will make conditions easier for anyone to access data about people’s driving habits, not just independent auto-repair shops. 

Those in favor of the initiative say drivers will be able to access their own driving data from their mobile devices and personal computers. If it is easy enough for that data to be transmitted on the internet, it could easily be accessed by hackers and criminals for nefarious purposes.

A “no” vote would allow lawmakers more time to develop regulations. Those regulations would put into place security measures, and give automotive manufacturers time to create, test, and install security software and hardware. 

Telematic data is not necessary for independent auto-repair shops to operate. They have been functioning fine without access to this data for years. Despite the modernization of automobiles, their systems remain mechanical. Therefore, most issues can be resolved without the need to analyze telematic data.

The new law would not require authorization from manufacturers in order for a third party to access data. The current regulations serve to protect consumers’ data from falling into the wrong hands. Without those safeguards in place, anyone with an internet connection and some computer knowledge could access, manipulate, or erase data from consumer automobiles. Proposed changes outlined in Question 1 (2020) would cause more harm than good.

Consumers may benefit from access to this data, but the uncertainty of who else could access it  places an individuals’ health and safety at risk. The data would be accessible at any time, meaning hackers could modify data while an individual is driving, which has the potential to impact their vehicle’s diagnostic system and cause an accident.

Beyond criminal purposes, for-profit third parties have the potential to use data for unwanted marketing and other purposes if this question passes. Companies would have the potential to know GPS locations of consumers’ vehicles, and potentially use that information to figure out where people shop, eat, and live. 

Even more dangerous is the potential for GPS data to be accessible to stalkers and sexual predators. Accessible telematic data would allow such individuals to locate the whereabouts of their victims.

A “no” vote on this question supports privacy rights to which all citizens are entitled. This sensitive information is best in the hands of automotive manufacturers, who will safeguard it from hackers, stalkers, and advertising agencies. 

We should not vote to approve making access to telematic systems and data free and open until proper security measures are in place. Approving this measure before these systems have been tested is a potential threat to driver safety.