TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Today’s fast-paced growth in vehicle-telematics systems presents a key question: who owns the data gleaned from the technology: the OEM, vehicle owner or a third party?

The issue is being explored by panelists during the Connected Vehicle forum at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here this week.

“The customer owns the data,” OnStar President Linda Marshall insists, noting General Motors’ telematics unit works with existing privacy laws to protect customers from unintended data usage.

OnStar sends opt-in emails to its millions of subscribers regarding data collection, she says, and also has a separate opt-in process for customers relating to dealer marketing programs. However, some of OnStar’s data is “anonymous” and relates to customers’ real-time locations.

“It’s a very sensitive topic and one that always comes up with OEMs,” says ATX’s Scott Nelson, director-business development. “In terms of vehicle diagnostic data, a lot of OEMs like to say they own the data. But when it comes down to it…consumers…own the data.”

Vehicle-probe data, in which real-time traffic/accident information is collected, is becoming a hot topic, as well, the panelists agree. Nelson says ATX is careful to scrub customers’ identities.

“You always try to look at an instance where someone solved this already,” says David Miller, Covisint’s chief security officer. Covisint is involved in collecting health-care data, and there are “decent laws about this already. I own my data and (can) say who can get access to it.”

Telematics growth in the U.S. is exploding, with Nelson citing a study predicting an 80% penetration rate by 2015 from 30% today. ATX, had a hand in launching Toyota’s Safety Connect and Lexus Enform systems in the last two years, he says, as well as Hyundai’s BlueLink system this year.

However, both Nelson and OnStar’s Marshall says China is where the real opportunity lies for telematics expansion.

“Their navigations systems and need for traffic analysis is much more than it is here,” Marshall says, noting the rapid development of roads in the country.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com