Even basics in dispute on Right to Repair ballot question

Is the proposal a simple update or a cybersecurity threat?

MASSACHUSETTS VOTERS will be asked in November whether to update the Right to Repair law — but they may have a hard time wading through the complexities of a ballot question when supporters and opponents cannot even agree on the basics of what it will do.

Tommy Hickey, director of the Right to Repair Coalition, and Conor Yunits, a spokesman for No on One, joined the Codcast to discuss the ballot question – and disagreed on even the most factual details of what the current law says and how the ballot question would change it.

Today, cars are equipped with a port where a mechanic can plug in and diagnose a problem. The ballot question would require manufacturers to create a new open access data platform where consumers, and their repair shops, could use a mobile app to access telematic data, which is information transmitted wirelessly.

Hickey said telematics is simply new technology that provides the same diagnostic and repair information now available through the port. He compared it to the internet and email replacing letters and pay phones. “There is a new, more efficient way to diagnose and repair a car,” Hickey said.

Hickey called the ballot question an update to the 2013 law, maintaining the spirit of the law that gives independent repair shops the same ability to fix a car as a dealership. He said the ballot question will create “a level playing field” where owners can access their car’s information and “can continue to get their cars fixed where they want.” For example, a repair shop owner might want to get a notification that a car’s brakes are about to wear out – a notification now sent only to a dealer.

But Yunits said the ballot question would require the sharing of additional information, like a car’s location. Yunits said the Autocare Association, one of the ballot question’s funders, has been showing mockups of a mobile app that includes GPS location and behavior data. “It goes well beyond mechanical data,” Yunits said. “And that is where the risk is.”

The No on One campaign released a TV ad featuring a woman walking to her car in an isolated parking garage. The ad warns that if Question 1 passes updating the state’s Right to Repair law, anyone – even a stalker — could determine where she is.

Yunits said the ad stems from testimony from domestic violence prevention groups, which worry that a hacker to the car’s mobile app could access real-time location data. “With that information, people would be able to track an individual down, potentially take control of the vehicle, turn off the vehicle,” Yunits said.

Hickey said the concerns raised by one of the domestic violence groups related to a different California proposal, and the ballot question is only about mechanical data, not personal data. “This is about mechanical information, diagnostic and repair information, that is not GPS location,” Hickey said.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Part of the dispute is what the 2013 Right to Repair law already covers.

Hickey said the 2013 law excludes telematics, which was a relatively unknown technology at the time the laws passed. With the advance in telematics, Hickey said, “We’re back to pre-2012 with a wireless communication system that is unregulated and unstandardized that independent repairs and owners do not have access to. And it’s sent strictly to car manufacturers and their dealers.”

But Yunits says the 2013 law excludes some aspects of telematics – like GPS location data – but does require dealers to share telematics that involve repair and diagnostic information. “The existing law ensures that they have everything they need to diagnose and repair the vehicle,” Yunits said. “What Question One would do is expand that information available to not just local repair shops, but to any third parties, well beyond what is needed to diagnose and repair a vehicle.”