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Federal agency wants help protecting domestic violence victims from high-tech cars

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell says law enforcement, survivor advocates and tech companies need to collaborate on effective responses to domestic abuse committed through connected vehicle technologies. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News/TNS)

The Federal Communications Commission wants feedback on how it can better protect domestic violence survivors from stalking and abuse carried out through internet-connected technology in cars.

The public comment window is open through May 23, and responses are starting to come in.

“We need to collaborate with law enforcement agencies, survivor advocacy organizations, and technology companies to develop protocols and guidelines for responding to incidents of domestic abuse involving connected vehicles,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, said in a comment shared Monday.

The FCC’s call for suggestions and information comes after it worked over the past two years to implement the Safe Connections Act of 2022, legislation meant to stop abusers from using shared phone plans to track their victims. The agency wants to go further following recent reports describing how abusers can use remote access features — like GPS tracking, climate controls and even honking the car horn — to continue their harassment.

“No survivor of domestic violence and abuse should have to choose between giving up their car and allowing themselves to be stalked and harmed by those who can access its connectivity and data,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

“We can — and should — do more to make sure these new forms of communications help keep survivors safe,” she added.

The FCC officially filed a notice of proposed rulemaking on April 8. The notice is a precursor to new regulations — or perhaps new legislation in Congress — that would lay out what kind of safeguards automakers and software providers need to adopt.

Individuals and organizations can submit comments on the FCC on its website at

In January, Rosenworcel wrote a letter to nine large automakers asking for details about existing connected car technology and plans to support people who have been people harassed by domestic abusers.

She cited a New York Times report from December about a woman stalked by her ex-husband using Mercedes-Benz connected vehicle technology as the motivation for sending the letter. Reuters published a similar story earlier that month about harassment done using Tesla’s mobile app.

Automakers, software companies and trade groups have since submitted comments and suggestions to the FCC.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing all the major automakers in the U.S. except for Tesla Inc., suggested Congress adopt new legislation to supplement the Safe Connections Act.

The alliance’s proposal would require service providers to terminate or disable connected vehicle accounts associated with domestic abusers within five days business days of receiving a valid request.

If a provider cannot terminate or disable the account because of a technological limitation, the provider would need to notify the requestor and provide information on other potential solutions — such as setting up a new account altogether.

The Detroit Three automakers, in response to Rosenworcel’s letter, each detailed their existing options for turning off connected vehicle services.

Ford Motor Co. has the simplest, most direct option of the three.

The company, responding to the FCC, said it offers in-vehicle touchscreen options that allow customers to disable some or all connected vehicle systems. That includes an option to dissociate a vehicle from Ford’s FordPass and Lincoln Way mobile apps.

Stellantis NV, by contrast, wrote that customers may request the deactivation of connected services, including location services, for connected vehicles. The company added that it reviews, on a case-by-case basis, situations where the person requesting deactivation is not the owner of the vehicle or a party to the vehicle’s connected services agreement.

General Motors Co. said it has a similar system through OnStar, its subsidiary focused on in-vehicle communications, remote services, emergency services and more.

“A customer can contact onStar Safety & Security through the vehicle OnStar button prominently available in their vehicle, or by calling 1-88-4OnStar, to request that an OnStar account be restricted, preventing access to vehicle location and the ability to issue remote commands to the vehicle,” the company said.

If the requestor is not the primary account owner, they will need to provide proof of vehicle ownership or another official document to support the request — like a restraining or divorce order.

The company added that customers can delete personal information stored in a vehicle’s infotainment and telematics system through the settings menu of the in-vehicle infotainment dashboard.

Mercedes-Benz, which was at the center of the New York Times’ December report, told the FCC that it does not automatically accept all requests to disable an account holder’s access to the company’s “Mercedes me connect” system.

The company wrote, “(W)hen the party requesting the deletion of a profile or termination of access is not the vehicle owner or lessee, our ability to confirm the veracity of that request is limited. A court order would thus be required where a non-owner or leasing party is seeking the deactivation of a service.”

In instances where such orders are unavailable, domestic violence survivors could be at risk of further abuse.

“(A)ny remedy must acknowledge that the reporting and notification process will present a heightened risk of abuse, and consider proactive methods to curb retaliation from an abuser,” Dingell wrote.

“Solutions must also consider the ability of survivors to swiftly revoke or disable an abuser’s access to their activity on connected vehicle technology, ability to remove sensitive data that has already been stored in an app and ensure that the abuser cannot utilize other methods, such as a service request, to access that data.”

Lawmakers — in Congress and elsewhere — are stepping up scrutiny of technology in vehicles.

State lawmakers in California have proposed three pieces of legislation meant to protect domestic violence survivors from harassment enabled by connected vehicles, CalMatters reported Tuesday.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, sent a joint letter Tuesday to the Federal Trade Commission alleging inconsistent and lax data retention policies by major automakers.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has an ongoing investigation into the potential dangers of connected vehicles from Chinese companies.


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