Laudator Frank Rosengart

The BigBrotherAward 2021 in the category “Mobility” is awarded to

The European Commission

for the introduction of the “On-Board Fuel Consumption Meter” (OBFCM).

What’s the rationale behind this?

Auto manufacturers tend to fudge the data when it comes to emissions. Actually, you could say: there are lies, damned lies – and emissions data. We have known this since the “Dieselgate” emissions scandal became public. And it’s not really a surprise either that petrol consumption is much higher on the road than under lab conditions.

Now, it’s important for the EU to get accurate information, since CO2 limits have been introduced for new cars. Manufacturers whose cars exceed the limits have to pay significant fines1. Also, potential buyers are supposed to get an idea of their new dream car‘s appetite for fuel – in real life, not just in the sales brochure. This is why consumption is supposed to be measured under actual driving conditions and not just in the lab.

The well-intentioned rationale goes like this: why not use the comprehensive data that modern cars already record, in the engine management system, the fuel injection system, and so on? Modern cars have powerful on-board computers, and thanks to the “e-Call” system – a BigBrotherAward winner in 2014 – there is also a mobile communications module that can transmit data in real time. This is called “telemetry”, which is really just another way of saying that the cars “phone home”. We gave Microsoft a BigBrotherAward in 2018 for the telemetry in Windows 10. So if a car can do all that, there is no need for lab values that could be massaged or tweaked.

Now, you might think, cell phone transmission in real time, isn’t that a bit over the top? Couldn’t you just … collect the data and upload it the next time the car is in the garage? Well, yes, you could do that, but new cars in Germany can go without inspection for three years, and the EU Commission would have to wait until then to receive the data. In view of climate change, that is a long time.

For the five-year trial period that has now started, the EU Commission decided, in the implementation of EU Regulation 2019/6312, to task the manufacturers with the collection of this data.

Right. The automobile manufacturers.

Those who have proven soooo “trustworthy” when it came to emissions and consumption data.

Seriously?

It almost seems like the EU Commission had its doubts, too, because they decided to ask for detailed data from each car, at frequent intervals: consumption values, distance travelled and possible additional parameters, all tied to the vehicle information number, and this is how they plan to stop the manufacturers from pulling the wool over our eyes again.

But there is a catch, because the manufacturers are still in the loop. Not only that: Manufacturers get the complete telemetric data set, served up on a silver platter, where they used to have to ask the vehicle keeper for permission. Now the legal obligation obviates the need for consent. Beyond that, there is more data which the Regulation calls “additional parameters”, and no doubt the manufacturers will be very happy to get their hands on those as well.

The EU Regulation states that the vehicle identification number “shall be used only for the purpose of that data processing and shall not be retained longer than needed for that purpose”3, but nobody really wants to commit to a specific length of time. The fact is: while the engine data are linked to the vehicle ID, it will be possible to gain far-reaching insights into individual driving behaviour.

In reply to an official question by the liberal party FDP4, the German Federal Government stated that the OBFCM technology could not be used to establish movement profiles. They also state that only the Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt) and insurance companies will be able to connect the vehicle information number to specific vehicle keepers. But as we have learned in the past: where there is a trough, the swine will come. Once the data are collected, new “needs” and “legitimate” interests will materialize.

And it is not just the EU Commission. The German Federal Government would also like to have this kind of data. It is currently planning an iniative on mobility data, “Datenraum Mobilität”, in which German auto manufacturers and mobility providers “share” data, so the objective. It is far from clear for now who will share what with whom. No doubt there are reasonable uses for such a data pool. But we get to make a decent guess that drivers will be fighting an uphill battle if they want make sure that their movement data do not become a free for all.

The electronic On-Board Fuel Consumption Meter (OBFCM) is another stone paving the road toward the transparent driver – even though this would not have been necessary in any way. We are very concerned to see how telematics are increasingly finding their way into cars, and how data protection is cast by the wayside.

And this is why we say, for the EU Regulation 2019/361: Congratulations, EU Commission, on your BigBrotherAward 2021.

 

1 https://www.auto-motor-und-sport.de/verkehr/co2-limits-95-gramm-flottenverbrauch-strafe-eu-vw-daimler/ (German)

2 EU Regulation 2019/631: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32019R0631

3 Article 12, 2.e

4 The FDP’s written question in the German parliament: https://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/19/264/1926477.pdf

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