Ballot Initiatives

Massachusetts Voters Will Decide (Again) Who Is Allowed To Fix Their Cars

The costly fight over a “right to repair” proposal has led to a lot of cybersecurity fearmongering.


Millions of dollars are being spent to woo Massachusetts voters over a ballot proposition not about taxes, drug policy, or labor laws, but about how your car gets repaired and who is allowed to access your car's data.

This November, Massachusetts voters will vote on a "right to repair" initiative, Question 1, that would establish that car manufacturers have to permit vehicle owners and independent repair facilities to access a car's diagnostic data.

Supporting Question 1 is a coalition of auto parts stores and independent repairers who say they're being left behind as auto manufacturers choose who can be authorized to access the increasingly complex computerized data. Supporters have contributed more than $21 million to get Question 1 passed.

Opposing Question 1 is a group of auto manufacturers (including General Motors, Ford, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan) under the umbrella of the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data. They have contributed more than $25 million to defeat the effort.

Massachusetts voters already weighed in on this in 2012 and voted to allow consumers and auto repair shops to have open access to vehicle diagnostic data. But over the past few years, auto manufacturers have increasingly implemented systems that transmit a car's diagnostic information wirelessly to remote locations—known as telematics, technology also used for GPS tracking.

Now auto manufacturers are controlling who can access or receive this wirelessly collected data, which gives them the power to pick and choose who can repair cars, regardless of what consumers might want. So, this new ballot initiative will require that automakers, starting in 2022, have an open access data platform for third parties and owners to also see the data.

This fight has turned into a massive fear-driven campaign. Question 1 supporters say that carmakers are trying to force consumers to go to car dealerships for repairs and pay their higher costs. Auto manufacturers insist this is not true and that there will still be plenty of choices for car repairs.

Opponents of Question 1 are bluntly and sensationally warning that if the initiative passes, your car's data may be accessed by hackers who can use the information to stalk you and break into your home. They've even gone so far as to claim that it will allow domestic abusers to access geolocation data from vehicles to track their victims. This isn't true: According to the Boston Globe, these claims are in reference to a failed "license to repair" bill from California from 2014 that required that geolocation data be made available. Question 1 does not include such demands.

Beyond the fearmongering, there are genuine concerns that increasing access to a car's data could set the platform up for cybersecurity vulnerabilities. But that's an argument about being careful with technological development, not an excuse for depriving consumers of access to the data produced by the vehicles that they own. Jennifer King, who works at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, told the Boston Globe in September that these complaints are an example of "security fearmongering."

"In theory, the fears that are being articulated could come true—if you build this platform with no security. But that would be really stupid," King said. A group of cybersecurity experts signed onto a letter to the editor published in the Boston Herald declaring that "this small expansion to the state's right to repair law in no way increases the risk of identity theft, cyber stalking or vehicle hacking."

Polling currently shows broad support for passing Question 1. But if you're confused as to why $50 million is being spent in this fight, after Massachusetts passed its previous "right to repair" law, auto manufacturers signed a memo saying they would make their laws compliant with the 2012 proposition across all 50 states and Washington, D.C., in an attempt to stop a patchwork of different ballot initiatives and laws passing elsewhere. So though Massachusetts is the sole state to adopt such "right to repair" laws, everybody will benefit.

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  1. Soon we won’t be able to escape the eyes of Big Brother(s). They now have a camera, microphone, and GPS tracking device in everyone’s pocket and microphones and cameras in millions of households. You can’t buy a dumb TV anymore. Now every TV tracks what you watch and sends the info the manufacturer so that it can target ads in the menus. Now it seems that every new car tracks you wherever you go whether you like it or not. And like the TVs, I would guess there will soon be no model available without this “feature”.

    1. There does need to be ‘privacy’ options. Just as it is with evil intended hacking of business PC’s – it needs to be illegal. I’d actually be quite surprise if it’s not illegal already.

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    2. My TeeVee does not do that. Nope. I killed it in 1972 and have not regretted it for one second. I fired a rifle bullet into the tube, and buried it into the yard. Did not shed one tear, then or ever since.

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      Whatevers in the article is not nearly as entertaining as dopehats meltdown on twitter, shaming a regular guy voting libertarian.

      You fucking losers have lost your minds and its beautiful to watch.

      I hope the cocktail parties start back up and you’re not invited. Then crawl back into your loser lib holes and die like your fake principles died a long time ago.

      1. Pepperidge Farm remembers back when Popehat was still human.

    4. The right to repair is a bit different. The manufacturers are claiming that because the software on the car/truck/tractor – yes John Deere is big on this) is copyrighted, they have the control of it.

      Taking the John Deere example. If you have a farm, say couple hundred miles away from the nearest John Deere service center and say the starter motor goes out, you cannot replace the starter motor yourself – because the computer recognizes the changed part and will refuse to let the tractor run.
      There are 3rd party companies that have hacked the computer and made them run – I suspect that might be illegal under the DMCA, but having a tractor down for a day or two is an expensive loss of productivity – especially during harvest.
      The real reason John Deere wants to protect this is because there are certain options, including higher horsepower, that are turned on via software. So you buy a 200hp tractor, saving money over the 250hp one, and then buy a 3rd party software to enable the extra 50hp.
      Tesla does the same with many of its options (I think heated seats is software enabled).

  2. Isn’t this data available through a car’s OBD port anyway, or is this something different?

    1. It’s something different. OBD provides a certain set of data, but not all of it.

      I know my Volkswagen has a whole series of codes that do not trip a Check Engine light, but can be discovered by the VW dealer or someone who has the official VW diagnostic tool. They still plug into the OBD port to gather that information, but a bog standard OBD reader either can’t get to that info or doesn’t know how to interpret it.

      1. Only codes that are a ‘problem’ will trip the light. If your HVAC computer is showing bad temperature, you will never see that. Remember you have computers for everything, dashboard, engine, brakes, air-bags, seats, mirrors, hvac, infotainment. All accessed by the same port. On my car I can command “honk the horn” via that port.

  3. How long until your car testifies against you in Court?

    1. Beep once for yes…..

      1. Show us where your owner touched you…

        1. He was turning my knobs and pushing my buttons. Then he touched my tailpipe.

    2. Don’t they already have some sort of recording mode for road speed and braking status if you get into an accident? Your Honor, I was only going twenty and I was braking. Sorry pal, you were accelerating past sixty according to the print-out, and the built-in breathalyzer and pot-smoke detector says you had drinks and a doobie, too.

    3. Pretty sure OnStar data has been used in numerous cases.

    4. that must already be doable, because Uncle Stupid and others are now “arresting” and incarcerating vehicles for crimes the VEHUICLE has aledgely committed, things like carrying large sums of money or perhaps dried oregano some idiot copper though was Mare E Hootchie. They MUST expect the cars to testify in court, as they are the defendants, and we ALL know defendants always have the right to testify, and examine the eviedence agasint them.

    5. had done so for years …… accident reports feedback etc

    6. Most cars retain the last few seconds of data – like speed, throttle position, brake application, anti-lock break application etc. – before air-bag deployment.

      Lawyers and accident investigators know this and the data can be retrieved.
      So, yeah, if your are speeding and get into an accident, your car can be used against you.

  4. The Libertarian Stance is that manufacturers can do whatever the fuck they want, let the market weed out the ones who lock up the user data if that’s what the market wants.

    The problem however, is that manufacturers are using the GOVERNMENT to lock out users from their own vehicles. Huh? Wat? But using copyright, a government granted right, auto manufacturers are able to sue their customers for tinkering with the cars they purchased. It’s only that copyright backed “user agreement” that allows this. Telling your neighbor how to tune his ignition system could be seen as a violation of the DMCA.

    This is happening in Massachusetts because that state has a big culture of auto modification. People tuning their ignitions, writing their own IVIs, etc. The digital equivalent of what car enthusiasts have been doing since for literally a century. Except in 202 it’s now illegal, because the auto manufacturers have copyrighted the software in all the cars.

    1. Yeah, the copyright angle is where the problem is. If you want to void my warranty because I wrote my own software to run the car that makes perfect sense. You shouldn’t be able to sue me for it.

      The manufacturer’s arguments about the data the article is about don’t make any sense. To the extent that hackers could compromise that data and stalk me, well they can do that with the manufacturer collecting it to begin with. Anyone storing the data at all exposes me to that risk.

      They don’t want to share that data because right now they charge a lot of money for access to it. You have to buy special tools from the manufacturer to access that diagnostic data, and some of those tools have ongoing license costs.

      I’d also argue that this isn’t the manufacturer’s data to control (unless I’m leasing the vehicle from them), that data is generated from my car, it’s mine. If I want to turn it over to Jim Bob’s auto repair, that should be my decision alone.

      1. Nah Fat Mike. See when it only the automakers who get to choose who can legally access that Information the they will only choose upstanding and good people. Criminals won’t be authorized access.

        The other way is to.chaos where *criminals* can freely access it.

        It’s like how making it illegal to have drugs means they’re all gone.

      2. Soon you’ll own the car, but not the software to run it. Tow it, push it, roll it all you want.

        But to turn it on and use it as intended, you’ll have to agree to the software license agreement, like an iPhone.

    2. Absolutely right!!!!! There certainly could be adjustments to patient law which filters out those who turn it into branching-monopolies.

    3. It’s not just copyright law, auto manufacturing is so heavily regulated that only the largest companies can afford the army to lawyers needed for compliance.

      There are hurdles at the state level too. Most states ban the direct sale of automobiles to the public. How’s that for a cozy little arrangement with auto dealerships?

  5. Missing the bigger question here, which is “Why is my car collecting and sending this kind of sensitive could-impact-my-security data in the first place?”

    1. I’ll take a guess and say because Obama passed “environmental” laws insisting vehicle manufacturers install “mother-may-I” devices on all vehicles. And there’s a whole slew of owners and even emergency response units complaining about the “gov-shut-down” devices of their purchased vehicles. Heck, units made before Obama mobster-laws are selling for MORE than the brand-new ones.

      1. Sounds like right-wing bullshit. I’m not outright calling you a big fat liar, but I need to see proof/news article that confirms.

        I know car dealers install shutdown devices on cars they sell to high risk customers (the dealers bet that they will have to reposes the car).

        I have not heard of a single government shutdown device. I have heard of proposals in California to allow the police to shutdown a car (avoid high speed chase) – which if the hackers ever figured it out (and they will) would make clearing out the freeway pretty cool. Guy in front driving to slow, shut down his car and when he pulls over you can pass with ease…. Cops chasing you…. well shutdown their cars (contrary to popular opinion, cop cars are 100% stock, not modified, maybe with heavy duty cooling system or heavier springs, but the liability of having a modified car is too high – and they have to pass the same emissions test, so same computer – same programming – same EPA certification)

        1. Look-up diesel re-gen problems. Perhaps I was a bit vague there but the finer details are actually worse than just shutdown’s. Thousands of brand new very expensive units just burn to the ground with no warning while just sitting there.

    2. Because they can sell it?

    3. Celebrity Ostrich food is expensive.

  6. Now if only Tractor companies would get their dose of antitrust-basics stuffed down their tailpipe. Kubota doesn’t even sell diagnostic units. Everyone HAS to go the dealer and the few hack-units made in China ( yes, they DO violate our monopoly laws solely for profit 🙂 ) are selling for over $2k.

    1. My decades-old tractor doesn’t even have LIGHTS, much less a computer.

  7. Red. Barchetta.

  8. 2019: Where’s my jetpack?
    2020: You can have your jetpack for the low, low price of one human soul!

  9. The opponents are being a bit hyperbolic given that the federal government already provides that functionality to anyone without hacking, for aircraft. Seriously, you can watch FlightAware to see where a plane is, punch the N number into the FAA’s website, and look up the owner’s address. No hacking to get that information necessary, all available in realtime on the web to anyone who can be bothered to punch a number into two websites. Maybe the Question 1 opponents should go focus their ire on the FAA?

  10. Funny, I don’t recall any car ads with little disclaimer text crawling across the bottom identifying all the data they manufacturer will take from you and monetize.

  11. I don’t worry about retail data theft from my service station. I worry about wholesale data marketing by the maker of my car. And the companies that sell phone tracking and license plate tracking and facial recognition services.

  12. 1) Build cars without planned obsolescence, so they won’t need repair so often.
    2) Give consumers the option of buying simple cars that can be easily fixed.

    1. You have that second option. It’s called a “used car.”

      1. ..but you won’t be able to drive it if you can’t pass emissions. Environmental legislation gets just as much blame for this mess as does the car companies. Almost as-if the left is making crony government just to stuff big corp pockets…. The projection of the left is all that’s left 🙂

        1. Thank the gods for *really* old cars that don’t even have to be tested.

          1. Yeah, the ones that pollute the most.

            1. Ironically; the one’s running when global temperatures were decreasing the fastest (WWII). Well; except these last 5-years. Welcome to the environmental clown/freak show where alarmists change there alarm every-time the weather changes .

              1. Look, environment doesn’t change willy-nilly, there is always a cause.
                You might not be able to detect or quantify the cause, but there is a cause. It is not magic.
                Your hyperbole is useless information. You’re just spouting the same tired tropes that dim witted conservatives spit out. The same conservatives who wouldn’t know a science book if it hit them in the head. Please, one scientific paper, with data, collection methods, analysis etc. peer reviewed, that point to global warming not being man-made.
                As a second challenge, one similar good paper that says we don’t have to worry about environment change.

                I’m willing to listen.

                No surprisingly, climate deniers are sometimes the same people that believe in “young earth”. Basically believe in the supernatural magic.

                1. That’s the problem with you ‘book smart’ blindly stupid idiots. You couldn’t filter reality even after it slaps you deadly in the face.

                  “point to global warming not being man-made” — Uh… duh…. End of Ice Age you nit wit.

                  1. Sorry; I shouldn’t be so mean – but good lord you lefties are dumb.

                2. Golly! Lots of big and cool sounding words. I mean you said science, data and analysis. Yet given your last sentence and link I’d say your own reasoning and rational faculties are suspect. Where’s the logic in that package deal? Not to mention the name-calling and derision by which one might question your clinical or emotional detachment. I’d venture to say you never really listen.

            2. as YOU prove Gruber’s point

  13. God forbid that car owners should be able to decide for themselves what risks they’re willing to take regarding their auto data.

    1. “their auto” — Gosh and all this time I thought they were selling not renting.

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  16. MA voters voted, and they will continue to vote until they vote correctly. At which point the question will have been settled and there will never be a need to revisit the question.

    This is how a democracy works.

    Mutual enslavement.

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