Over the past few months, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has received requests from U.S. Senators asking the FTC to investigate the data collection practices of several automotive manufacturers.  Last week, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to the FTC asking the agency to investigate several automakers for “deceiving their customers by falsely claiming to require a warrant or court order before turning over customer location data to government agencies.”  Among other things, the letter alleges inconsistent data collection and retention practices in the industry, asserting that some automakers only collect location data for a “critical safety event” (e.g., collision, air bag deployment, or automatic emergency braking event) while others “routinely collect[] and retain[] vehicle location data.”  The letter also states that only one automaker has a policy of informing consumers about legal demands for their data.  The letter refers to the FTC’s recent geolocation “crack down” in other contexts and urges “the FTC to investigate these auto manufacturers’ deceptive claims as well as their harmful data retention practices” and to, “in addition to taking appropriate action against the companies, . . . consider holding these companies’ senior executives accountable for their actions.”

As background, in December 2023, Senator Markey announced that his office had sent letters to fourteen automotive manufacturers asking about their privacy practices and urging them to implement stronger privacy protections for consumers.  In February 2024, after receiving responses from automotive manufacturers, Senator Markey sent a letter to the FTC asking the FTC to investigate the data privacy practices of automotive manufacturers because the responses automakers provided to his letter “gave [him] little comfort” and claiming that the companies’ “ambiguity and evasiveness calls out for the investigatory powers of the FTC.”  The letter states that automotive manufacturers access a “vast collection” of data, including location data, and alleges that such data in some cases “has been exploited by abusive partners to track domestic violence victims.”

The Federal Communications Commissions (“FCC”) also recently took steps related to vehicle location data, citing similar concerns.  Last month, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on additional action the FCC could take pursuant to the Safe Connections Act to help survivors of domestic violence access safe and affordable connectivity, particularly in the context of connected car services.

We will continue to update you on meaningful developments related to connected and autonomous vehicles and technology regulation across our blogs.

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Photo of Jennifer Johnson Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is a partner specializing in communications, media and technology matters who serves as Co-Chair of Covington’s Technology Industry Group and its global and multi-disciplinary Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) Groups. She represents and advises technology companies, content distributors…

Jennifer Johnson is a partner specializing in communications, media and technology matters who serves as Co-Chair of Covington’s Technology Industry Group and its global and multi-disciplinary Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) Groups. She represents and advises technology companies, content distributors, television companies, trade associations, and other entities on a wide range of media and technology matters. Jennifer has almost three decades of experience advising clients in the communications, media and technology sectors, and has held leadership roles in these practices for almost twenty years. On technology issues, she collaborates with Covington’s global, multi-disciplinary team to assist companies navigating the complex statutory and regulatory constructs surrounding this evolving area, including product counseling and technology transactions related to connected and autonomous vehicles, internet connected devices, artificial intelligence, smart ecosystems, and other IoT products and services. Jennifer serves on the Board of Editors of The Journal of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Law.

Jennifer assists clients in developing and pursuing strategic business and policy objectives before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress and through transactions and other business arrangements. She regularly advises clients on FCC regulatory matters and advocates frequently before the FCC. Jennifer has extensive experience negotiating content acquisition and distribution agreements for media and technology companies, including program distribution agreements, network affiliation and other program rights agreements, and agreements providing for the aggregation and distribution of content on over-the-top app-based platforms. She also assists investment clients in structuring, evaluating, and pursuing potential investments in media and technology companies.

Photo of Jocelyn Jezierny Jocelyn Jezierny

Jocelyn Jezierny is an associate in Covington’s Washington, DC office and a member of the firm’s Communications and Media Industry Group. Before joining Covington, Jocelyn was an Attorney-Advisor in the Federal Communications Commission’s International Bureau, where she worked on matters pertaining to the…

Jocelyn Jezierny is an associate in Covington’s Washington, DC office and a member of the firm’s Communications and Media Industry Group. Before joining Covington, Jocelyn was an Attorney-Advisor in the Federal Communications Commission’s International Bureau, where she worked on matters pertaining to the licensing of foreign-owned U.S. telecommunications services providers.

Jocelyn is a member of the Bar of New York. District of Columbia bar application pending; supervised by principals of the firm.

Photo of Andrew Longhi Andrew Longhi

Andrew Longhi is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity and Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Groups.

Andrew advises clients on a broad range of privacy and cybersecurity issues, including compliance obligations, commercial…

Andrew Longhi is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity and Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Groups.

Andrew advises clients on a broad range of privacy and cybersecurity issues, including compliance obligations, commercial transactions involving personal information and cybersecurity risk, and responses to regulatory inquiries.

Andrew is Admitted to the Bar under DC App. R. 46-A (Emergency Examination Waiver); Practice Supervised by DC Bar members.

Photo of Jorge Ortiz Jorge Ortiz

Jorge Ortiz is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity and the Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Groups.

Jorge advises clients on a broad range of privacy and cybersecurity issues, including topics related…

Jorge Ortiz is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity and the Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Groups.

Jorge advises clients on a broad range of privacy and cybersecurity issues, including topics related to privacy policies and compliance obligations under U.S. state privacy regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act.