Even basics in dispute on Right to Repair ballot question

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.

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.”




While the Boston Police Department investigates wrongdoing, some employees are out on extended paid administrative leaves that cost the agency $2.5 million.

Revised medical parole rules, which are designed to release medically incapacitated inmates, draw fire as still too tough.

Opinion: Lawrence S. DiCara joins the ranks of those who say the state needs to think big in addressing the reconstruction of the throat section of the I-90 Allston interchange…..US Rep. Ayanna Pressley and 1199 SEIU vice president Tim Foley say anti-union efforts reflect racist attitudes….Police need to be removed from our schools, says Liza Hirsch of Massachusetts Advocates for Children….Kathy Laflash of the New England Gas Workers Alliance hailsthe new attitude of the Department of Public Utilities…The comments of SJC justices suggest they are off base when it comes to Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency powers, according to attorney David Geiger.

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