Right to Repair, which passed by ballot initiative in 2012, allows vehicle owners to grant independent repair shops access to diagnostic data that would otherwise be available solely to manufacturers.
Right to Repair proponents, however, say that there is a loophole in the existing law that allows car manufacturers to withhold access to telematics — systems data retrieved wirelessly and not via a physical port on the vehicle. On this year’s ballot, Question 1 gives voters a chance to close this loophole, and The Eagle’s editorial board believes they should.
Right to Repair became state law with overwhelming support — 88 percent said yes to the 2012 ballot question — indicating that Bay State voters value the option to get their cars fixed at their preferred mechanic instead of being forced to dealer centers for certain issues. For all the same reasons voters supported the first initiative, carmakers should not be allowed to end-run a law meant to protect consumer choice and promote fair competition.
As with most technology, the future is wireless for automobile computer systems. While it’s now the case that only the newest model vehicles utilize telematics, it will likely be the norm soon. We should address it now before many Bay Staters find that fixing their new car requires repair diagnostic data on which carmakers have maintained a monopoly through a design technicality. As it stands now, Massachusetts motorists can’t decide who accesses maintenance and diagnostic telematics generated by the car they bought. This certainly flies in the face of the spirit, if not the letter, of the state’s existing Right to Repair law.
Opponents maintain that independent repair shops do in fact have “access” to telematics, but that access currently comes with a price. Car manufacturers can charge independent mechanics for accessing this data, often to the tune of hundreds of dollars per diagnostic code — a cost that’s passed on to the consumer, disincentivizing certain repair work for independent shops and artificially reducing competition for manufacturers’ dealership garages.
The No on 1 campaign has largely focused on the specter of data vulnerability, with advertising dramatically suggesting the initiative’s success would potentially result in grave danger to vehicle owners who grant their local mechanics access to their car’s telematics. These ads are not just heavy-handed but deeply disingenuous. Much of the No on 1 campaign material references a separate initiative proposal in California, which allows access to vehicle GPS and location data. This crucially differs from the Massachusetts Right to Repair ballot initiative, which specifies that only maintenance, repair and diagnostic data would be on the table should vehicle owners decide to share it with their mechanic of choice.
Pushback to No on 1 scare tactics has not been limited to the Right to Repair coalition. Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault, rebuked No on 1 for referencing the advocacy group in its campaign literature. Despite what No on 1 suggested in campaign materials, Jane Doe Inc. has said it does not believe that Question 1 passing would be dangerous to vulnerable individuals like survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“We do not support the use of survivor fears or needs as pawns in a debate that is not ultimately about the needs of survivors,” Jane Doe Inc. said in a statement, adding that No on 1 never consulted them.
Data security is important. If Question 1 passes, a third-party app would allow vehicle owners to share repair-relevant telematics with their mechanic of choice; the Legislature should then make it a priority to ensure that the app is as safe and secure as other frequently used apps that transmit far more personal information. This concern can be easily addressed without entertaining the No on 1 camp’s absurd insinuations that people might be stalked, attacked or worse if bad actors glean information on their tire pressure or engine performance.
The committee backing No on 1, the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, is backed by $25 million in contributions — not from data privacy and cybersecurity groups but from the likes of General Motors and Nissan North America. A skeptical voter might question whether No on 1 backers are more concerned for Bay Staters’ data security than they are for the car manufacturing lobby’s bottom line.
Question 1’s opponents had ample opportunity to explain why this lobby should keep a monopolistic grip on your car’s telematics. They instead spent their campaign dishonestly fear-mongering in an attempt to distract consumers from asking why carmakers should be able to flout the spirit of the extant Right to Repair law to drive more repair jobs to their dealership garages. Hopefully voters will see through this charade.
The Eagle endorses voting yes on Question 1.