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The Argument Against “Right To Repair” Question On The Mass. Ballot

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Yesterday, we examined the argument in support of Question One on the Massachusetts ballot, the “’Right to Repair Law’ Vehicle Data Access Requirement Initiative.” Today, we’ll hear the argument against it. Conor Yunits is the spokesperson for the No On One campaign, the Coalition For Safe And Secure Data. He made his case to WAMC.

YUNITS: Question One has been framed as a debate over ‘Right to Repair’. And that's really a false framing. We already have ‘Right to Repair’ Massachusetts. It ensures that vehicles can be repaired anywhere consumers want. It ensures that local mechanics have access to every bit of information they need to diagnose and repair a car. And it includes telematics, despite what the “Yes” side says. There is an entire section on telematics in the existing law that says that there's any information necessary to diagnose and repair a vehicle that is shared with dealer repair shops, and is only available through telematics and it must be made available to local repair shops. So this information is already covered. And really what Question One would do is significantly expand the data that that any third party has access to well beyond what is needed to repair a vehicle.

WAMC: The “No On One” movement is largely funded by major car corporations, and the “Yes On One” group says that this is an effort by the industry to essentially maintain a stranglehold on data availability  that excludes independent auto shops and consumers. What do you say to those accusations?

“No On One” is funded by automakers. And we've never been shy about that. On the flip side, the “Yes On One” hides behind local mechanics when $25 million of their funding, which represents 99.9% of their funding, has come from national auto parts chains. There has been virtually no money of this entire campaign raised in Massachusetts. This is a national effort by AutoZone, O'Reilly, Napa and these national auto parts companies to get information on consumers and to expand what they have available to them. This is like if Burger King and McDonald's came to Massachusetts and spent $25 million, but they said, “Don't worry, it's going to help out all the small cafes in the Berkshires.” Nobody would believe it. And yet the same level of scrutiny for whatever reason hasn't applied here. These are national chains trying to change the law in Massachusetts to benefit their own business.

So the “Yes On One” campaign says that your group is using scare tactics concerning data security around this question. Can you drill down on what exactly you think is at risk with data security if Question One was to pass?

Question One requires the creation of an open access platform that connects wirelessly to every new vehicle sold in Massachusetts beginning essentially next year. What this will do is lower the bar for entry into vehicle computers. So you know, our concern is not that your local mechanic is somehow going to do something nefarious with this information, they already have access to the information. What we're talking about is creating a- You're creating a wireless platform into vehicles that can be targeted, and will be targeted by hackers, by anyone with malicious intent. And just to put a point on that, because I know that that oftentimes the response is “well, we already trust our banking information to banks and their apps.” In that case, banks are the ones protecting their consumers. They're doing the security, they're creating the app, they're ensuring it's not hacked. Question One explicitly prohibits automakers from playing that same role. It does not allow automakers to say who can access their own vehicles wirelessly. And so when you remove the automakers from this, you remove any incentive for anyone to protect this information. You don't say, “Who’s going to build these applications? Who's going to secure them, who's going to pay for them?” And you're just saying that all information in vehicles must be accessible through this app. It's a recipe for disaster.

The “Yes On One” campaign also says that tens of thousands of jobs are at stake given the evolution of technology concerning data, and that a “No” vote would essentially exclude that part of the industry from evolving with these technological trends. What do you say to those claims?

You want to talk about scare tactics? That is a scare tactic. This has been- They've been going around the state saying somehow Question One, if it doesn't pass, Mom and Pop local repair shops are going to go out of business. That could not be further from the truth. The reality is if a vehicle if a manufacturer decided today that they only wanted to transmit their repair information wirelessly, they would still be required under the existing law to share that information with local repair shops. The existing law covers this. It provides more than one way to for local repair shops to get the information, and as I said before, it covers telematics. It is an absolute scare tactic to say that local repair shops somehow will be locked out if this doesn't pass. Automakers are required to share repair information, the same information they share with dealers, they are required to share that with independent mechanics under the existing law.

Conor, what's the final word on question one from your vantage point?

Question One is an effort by national retail parts chains to change the law and Massachusetts to benefit them. This will do virtually nothing for consumers. It will not help repair shops the way they think it will help them, and it will increase security risks for virtually no benefit for anyone except these national funders and we urge everyone to vote “No” on Question One.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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