The Potentially Supreme Role of Data

With the nation’s attention on the Supreme Court, many of us are thinking about how the court decides some of the most difficult, contentious issues that ultimately define how all of us live our lives.

In automotive, like many other industries with increasing reliance on data sharing, it’s likely only a matter of time before an interesting decision on data ownership or stewardship reaches the Supreme Court.  The legislature is already elbow deep in discussions around whether, how and when data is a commodity or simply information to be freely consumed by anyone. With Covid accelerating the pace at which all of us are buying, working, socializing, seeking medical treatment, etc. etc. online, our digital shadows – data about us and our consumer behavior – is only growing.

Obviously, we would never say with certainty how the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have considered or decided on data ownership issues, although one might guess she would focus on “fair use” without loopholes that singled out potential benefits for any one particular party.  Given the inevitability of the role of data powering benefits for consumers like being able to access service history in a quick swipe, knowing traffic patterns while commuting, or getting a good read on trends when making a buying decision, I predict that the fair use of data for aggregate consumer benefit will prevail.  The acceleration of digital retailing in automotive, and consumers’ expectation for a personalized, aligned customer journey will make the free-flow of data amongst auto tech companies inevitable, albeit in compliance with consent laws.

We expect to see continued decisions that favor fair access to data while respecting the protections put in place by growing privacy legislation like CCPA and GDPR.    The Banks Report recently nicely summarized the status of three data battle fronts which largely pointed at DMS giants CDK and Reynolds and Reynolds: 1) DMS anti-trade violations, 2) multi-district litigation (MDL) suits from various parties, and 3) legislative efforts in multiple states [Hawaii (July 2018), Arizona (April 2019), Montana (May 2019), Oregon (June 2019), and North Carolina (June 2020)].  While some cases are still awaiting final rulings or arbitration, most cases are leaning towards the free, unfettered flow of authorized data.  

Last week, Automotive News highlighted the latest on Massachusetts Right to Repair – a ballot initiative that would require car manufacturers to equip vehicles starting with model year 2022 such that owners (and their choice of repair shops) can access the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic data.  It challenges the notion that OEMs currently monopolize the rights to that data for their franchised service shops.  These types of suits will attract much more attention as more and more connected car technologies emerge and become ubiquitous.

We’ll be intently watching legal cases as they come forth, evolve and potentially reach the highest of high benches.  Meanwhile, Motive Retail will continue to invest in systems and processes that support the fair, secure free-flow of authorized data in automotive and allow for innovative tech providers to introduce solutions to help dealers and other parties continue to succeed in our evolving industry!