04/30/2014 03:45 EDT | Updated 06/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Car-tracking data devices to go under microscope in new study

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association announced Wednesday that it is launching an extensive study exploring how electronic monitoring systems in vehicles might impact the privacy of Canadians. 

The study comes amid an increase in the collection of 'telematics' — data collected by computers in cars and trucks that includes multiple measures of drivers' habits — used by automakers and insurance companies to develop new technology and policies. 

"Our vehicles are no longer simple mechanical devices which provide us with transportation, but electronic platforms capable of remarkable feats. In doing so, they collect and process large amounts of information, much of which is personal," said Vincent Gogolek, FIPA executive director, in a statement. 

With funding from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the year-long effort will set out to answer four primary questions:

- To what extent will car owners have the choice over how and when their vehicles are tracked?

- What happens when use of telematics becomes industry norm? Will consumers have an option to opt out?

- Will the public be able to make truly informed decisions if the choice is between concrete benefits and real but elusive risks?

- Are there alternatives to what automakers and insurance companies are developing that can provide those benefits without sacrificing consumer rights?

The study will be led by privacy and consumer law attorney Philippa Lawson and University of Toronto professor Andrew Clement, who heads the New Transparency: Surveillance and Social Sorting project.