Study: Most Americans Would Exchange Personal Info for Personalized Cars

A new study suggests the majority of Americans would be willing to divulge personal information, including their own fingerprints, if it personalized their car — and nearly two in three would ride in a self-driving car.

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems polled 1,514 consumers and 405 auto-manufacturing professionals age 18 and older across the U.S. and nine other countries, from underdeveloped India to first-world France. The firm found three-fourths of U.S. shoppers would share driving habits — as some insurance companies already facilitate — in exchange for insurance discounts. That tracks with Cisco's 10-country average. In the land of the autobahn, by contrast, only about half of all Germans are somewhat or very willing to have such devices installed — but more than 90% of all Indians and Brazilians are amenable to them.

What about other personal information? Reveal away, Americans say. Sixty-five percent would be willing to share personal information like height, weight and entertainment preferences to automakers, not just their car, if that returned a more customized driving experience. And around 55% would be somewhat or very comfortable providing biometric information, like fingerprints or DNA samples, if it made for personalized vehicle security. This is the sort of information "that would allow [the] vehicle to identify you as the rightful driver," said Andreas Mai, who directs product management for Cisco's connected-vehicles division. "Interestingly enough, we found that consumers are willing to trade personal data if they can get benefits from that." (If you think it's too Big Brother, consider that many laptops already ask for such information.)

It's not the case elsewhere, however. Fewer than half of all German, Japanese, British and French denizens would give biometric information. Brazilians and Indians, by contrast, are far happier to fork it over: "Primarily the emerging countries would be willing to share this data," Mai said.

Self-driving cars for the mass market may be more than a decade off, but Cisco says consumers are ready. Sixty percent of Americans would ride in a driverless car (but only 48% would let their kids do the same). Again, Brazil and India have the most adventurous consumers: Nineteen in 20 Brazilians would ride driverless. Compare that to Japan, where just 28% of consumers would jump behind the automated wheel.

From biometrics to automated driving, all of this requires a car that's more connected to the outside world than ever before. That's a long-standing trend, but Mai stressed that technique counts.

"Simply putting a router on a vehicle and connecting it to the internet is, in our view, not doing the trick," he said. Rather, automakers need "an ecosystem of partners" to create what drivers want — and, ultimately, build loyalty toward one automaker or another.

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Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price.  Email Kelsey