Locals chime in on Question 1: ‘Right to repair’

  • A summary of Ballot Question 1 in the Nov. 3  Massachusetts election, known as a “Right to Repair” law, is displayed in a handbook provided to voters by the Secretary of the Commonwealth. AP Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 10/19/2020 4:56:19 PM

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in several this week about ballot questions — some of which are statewide, and others are local — that voters will consider in the Nov. 3 general election.

You may have noticed your favorite TV shows and radio programs sandwiched by campaign ads for Question 1, billed as a “Right to Repair” initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot. But what is driving the content put forth by the question’s proponents and opponents?

The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, a group reportedly made up of 4,000 Massachusetts vehicle operators, consumers, independent auto repair shops, and local and chain auto part stores, insists this measure will level the playing field for mom-and-pop car shops.

But the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, consisting of large automakers, maintains that voting in the affirmative would threaten consumer privacy and cybersecurity, and allow third parties to sell customers’ personal data to advertisers.

According to the state attorney general and the secretary of the commonwealth, a “Yes” vote would “provide vehicle owners and the state’s 1,500 independent repair facilities with expanded access to wirelessly transmitted mechanical data related to their vehicles’ maintenance and repair.” A “No” vote would make no change in state law.

Ads for the “Yes” campaign tell viewers and listeners that passing the ballot question would give vehicle owners more choice in where to get service and that opponents are mostly giant automakers wanting to maintain a monopoly on telematics — information that sensors in newer vehicles generate and transmit wirelessly to isolated servers only automakers can access.

However, the “No” campaign insists the Right to Repair law already on the books provides local mechanic shops with all the information they need to diagnose and repair vehicles, and national retail auto parts chains want access to drivers’ data in order to sell more products. This side of the issue maintains expanding access could allow more vehicles’ computers to be hacked and predators could use data to stalk victims.

Local perspectives

But Jeremy Ainsworth, who has owned Triton Automotive at 381 High St. in Greenfield for about a year, said rejection of Question 1 would require vehicle owners to continue getting repairs at dealerships, typically at a higher cost than at a local independent shop.

“The only data we are asking for access to pertains to repair and maintenance,” he said. “It has nothing to do with GPS tracking or personal information like a lot of these commercials are saying.

“In cars now, everything has gone wireless,” added Ainsworth, who said he has been in the automotive industry for 28 years. “Very little is mechanical anymore.”

Jay Dillon, who co-owns Dillon Chevrolet at 54 Main St. in Greenfield with his brother, Tom, said, “A lot of people think this is about repair shops being able to fix your vehicle, and that’s really not what this is about. They already have that information.” He added that there will be “a lot of private information that will be unsecure if this goes through — driving habits and patterns, location. Your location will be available remotely in real time to third parties.”

Dillon said automakers and dealerships have the capability of keeping sensitive information private, whereas he feels small independent repair shops may not have the necessary cybersecurity.

Campaigns

Conor Yunits, spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, believes Question 1 is unnecessary.

“Despite what the other side may say, we already have Right to Repair in Massachusetts. … It ensures that local mechanics have all the information they need to diagnose and repair vehicles, and it ensures the consumers can take their cars wherever they want (for repairs),” Yunits said. “(This ballot question) creates tremendous risk for car owners, because it requires the creation of a wireless open-access platform that can be accessed from anywhere at anytime. It prevents manufacturers from playing any role in security and it, in fact, doesn’t say anything about security at all.”

Top donors to the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data include GM, Toyota, Ford, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, BMW, Mitsubishi, Volvo and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (formerly known as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers).

The question, if passed, would also require the open-access platform to be in place for vehicles in model year 2022, which can be sold starting next year. Yunits said this would be an impossible task.

Yunits said the “Yes” campaign is funded by national retail giants like AutoZone, NAPA Auto Parts and O’Reilly Auto Parts, which he said want to sell their customers’ information and sell more items to their customers. He said people who research the topic “will understand there is too much tradeoff here for too little benefit.”

By contrast, Tommy Hickey, director of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, said Question 1 has nothing to do with personal information and no one is allowed to sell the data.

Hickey explained he has been involved with Right to Repair since serving as a grassroots coordinator when the issue was on the ballot in November 2012. That was reportedly the most lopsided ballot question vote in Massachusetts history, with 87 percent of voters opting in favor. Salisbury and Groveland, in the northeast corner of the state, were the only towns to vote against the referendum.

But Hickey said evolving automotive technology has generated a loophole in state law. He explained there is a carveout for telematics, and dealerships have a monopoly on that sector of the repair business. Passing Question 1 would button up that loophole.

“If you bought the car, you should have all information,” Hickey said, referring to modern vehicles as “computers on wheels.”

He also said customers will still be allowed the choice to have their vehicles serviced at dealerships.

Other contributors to the “Yes” campaign are the Auto Care Association and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equity.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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