5 Investigates examines Massachusetts Ballot Question 1

Competing ads increasing confusion over complex issue NEEDHAM, Mass. — With special interest money pouring into ad campaigns on both sides, the facts over Question 1 are hard to discern. It pits the companies that make automobiles against the companies involved in fixing them, from auto parts giants to local mechanics. Question 1 is often called “Right to Repair,” which is also somewhat confusing because “Right to Repair” was the name of an earlier ballot question that passed and became law in 2013. If Right to Repair already passed, how is this different? The 2013 law was passed as vehicles were becoming more computerized. Right to Repair made sure independent mechanics were able to access a vehicle’s data to help find out what was wrong with the it. They access that data stored in your through what’s called an OBD2 port, something that’s pretty much standard in all vehicles now. But vehicles are increasingly transmitting data wirelessly, and Question 1 is about vehicle owners and their chosen mechanic getting access to that wireless data. So what will happen if Question 1 passes? It would update the 2013 law to include language that would require automakers to share that wireless data. They would have to make an app that would let vehicle owners and mechanics access mechanical data. Can my local mechanic fix my car if Question 1 does not pass? Right now mechanics don’t really need that wireless data to fix your vehicle, so the answer is yes — for now. But the concern is that at some point in the future, that vehicle data will only be transmitted wirelessly, so independent mechanics won’t be able to fix your car without Question 1. The side that opposes Question 1 says mechanics already have the access to what they need, but consumer advocates we talked to say that’s not really the case. Advertisements from the side opposing Question 1 — this is the side backed by the automakers — have claimed that drivers personal data could be used by targets or stalkers, or that hackers could take control of their vehicle. Will my personal safety be put at risk if Question 1 passes? Independent experts we talked to are skeptical of that claim. For starters, the language of the bill says “mechanical data” must be shared, nothing else. That means data needed for the “diagnosis, repair or maintenance of the vehicle,” not things like GPS data or information from a phone that’s been connected. The ads also talk about hackers taking over your car. It’s not impossible even without Question 1, but technology experts we talked to say the best way to make computer systems more secure is to open up the software platforms to researchers who do their own security checks. Here’s how cyber security expert Bruce Schneier described it: “Security is improved when software can be evaluated by researchers. And for that to be true, it has to be available to them. So the security improvements in Microsoft’s operating systems in Android and iPhone, all of those are because researchers find vulnerabilities and they’re fixed, and we learn from them,” said Schneier, who teaches and writes about technology and security. What kind of data does my car collect anyway? We don’t really know because the automakers aren’t saying. That’s something that consumer advocates and independent experts really don’t like, whether it involves vehicles or smart phones. Schneier said: “There’s an enormous amount of data coming out of your car. And that data is your data. It’s your car. And you should have access to it. You should decide who gets it. It shouldn’t be that the auto manufacturer who sold you the car gets to grab your data for free, to use it, sell it, use it to influence you, to market to you,” he said. “It’s really a question of, whose data is it? Is it yours or is it the auto manufacturers?” If Question 1 passes, the state attorney general will have to create a data disclosure form that will eventually be used when selling or leasing a vehicle. A dealer will have to disclose what data the vehicle collects, and could face fines for failing to disclose.

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