The Australian Automobile Assn. launches a campaign to tell Australians about connected cars’ potential benefits and risks.

Association CEO Michael Bradley says whether Australians like it or not, their next new car could well be a connected car, gathering information about them and sending it to the automaker in real time and all the time.

“Connected cars offer many consumer benefits,” he says in a statement.

“For example, these vehicles can talk to the world around them, helping drivers to be aware of and avoid traffic snarls or dangers on the road. This can help drivers reach their destination more quickly, more safely and more fuel efficiently. In the event of an accident a connected car can alert emergency services bringing help more quickly. “

But Bradley says control of the data generated by these vehicles, and the emerging debate over who gets to access it, could pose privacy risks and possibly drive up running and repair costs due to impaired competition.

 “As with many other aspects of our modern lives, car technology is evolving far faster than our laws,” he says. “Governments around the world are wrestling with how to balance innovation and consumer protection.”

The AAA says the experience in Europe has been that drivers of connected cars have been able to share vehicle data only with the relevant automaker.

If this situation is replicated in Australia, many industry observers believe, car owners may be left with little choice but to take their car to a branded repairer, rather than an independent repairer of their choice, and this will affect competition and cost.

Connected-car technology also gives automakers to pass on or sell personal information to third parties, such as insurers or marketers, the association says.

This is significant, the AAA says, after an investigation conducted last year on behalf of Europe’s car clubs showed highly personal information synced from mobile phones can be captured and transmitted back to the manufacturer.

“None of this is sinister in itself, but it is important Australians are told what information car makers collect about them, and what it’s used for before this technology becomes widespread in Australia,” Bradley says.

“It’s also important that our politicians consider the need for regulation to protect the consumer rights of Australian motorists.”

Before launching its campaign with its My Car My Data website, the AAA asked 24 automakers that sell vehicles in Australia to make their data-management policies publicly available on the site. To date only eight have responded.

An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission market study of the new-car-retailing industry includes whether consumers and businesses could be affected by restrictions on access to vehicle data.