Audi study on autonomous driving: The ways of data

Reliable protection for sensitive data in the traffic of tomorrow

09/14/2022 Reading Time: 4 min

Collage of a woman reading, a highway and a concept car.

The vehicle shown is a concept vehicle that is not available as a production model.

The vehicle shown is a concept vehicle that is not available as a production model.

Security, sustainability, convenience – and on the other side, a look at the reliable protection of sensitive data. The discussion about the development of autonomous driving is animated, both in Germany and on the international stage. Audi Brussels is kicking things up a notch with the introduction of an EU-wide law on fully automated driving (Level 4). The &Audi study “SocAIty” explores the legal framework conditions and ethical issues revolving around technology, as well as the topics of data protection, data security and data ownership.

The “SocAIty” study, carried out in collaboration with renowned experts from all over the world, addresses the key issues in the current public discussion: What will the collected data be used for – the advancement of the technology or the expansion of new business models? And, very importantly, who actually owns the generated data? Who will analyze and process it, and how will they do it? And last but not least, will the drivers of tomorrow be able to make their own decisions about the use of their data?

More convenience and more security

CGI render of a street populated by people and several autonomous cars

More convenience and more security

The experts in the study consider the technology’s biggest value to be more convenience and significantly improved safety thanks to fewer accidents and more efficient utilization of the infrastructure. It will also make people without a driver’s license and people who can’t get a driver’s license mobile again. Experience shows that misgivings about new technologies only predominate until a certain value or use – for instance, access to attractive mobility offerings in places with weak infrastructure – becomes palpable. With regard to increasing networking between vehicles and infrastructure, the experts mentioned the development of predictive technologies through artificial intelligence that can dynamically predict the traffic situation as a prerequisite for data to be fully effective. A seamless broadband internet connection with 5G standards on an international level is technically required to that end.

CGI render of a street populated by people and several autonomous cars

Data quality is a competitive advantage

For manufacturers and service providers in the field of autonomous driving, the collection and processing of data – for instance, from cameras and sensors – is a basic precondition for the advancement of their technologies and services. The experts in the study consequently consider it beyond dispute that they need access to the data – but within the framework of applicable data protection laws. On the one hand, the potential that data can offer for security, sustainability and convenience is clearly perceptible. On the other hand, the experts widely agree that a responsibility to the users and society exists.

Anonymization and encryption to protect privacy

The anonymization and encryption of data are consequently an important requirement. The protection of personal data such as names, addresses and locations that can be used to identify people are the focus here. But even regardless of personal connections, data security is generally about preventing misuse. A possible solution to this is “data pools” in which data sets are anonymized and interpreted in patterns. Another way is encryption, wherein data is converted into ciphertext that is difficult to be (or can’t be) read by unauthorized people. The experts actually explicitly welcome the fact that there are clear guidelines for privacy protection in Germany and Europe.

Design study of an interieur of an autonomously driving vehicle

The vehicle shown is a concept vehicle that is not available as a production model.

The vehicle shown is a concept vehicle that is not available as a production model.

Public services versus privately used cars

When it comes to public services such as shuttles, “robotaxis” and fleets, the experts surveyed for the study clearly consider the predominant right to use the data to be the providers’. The discussion revolving around privately used cars is not so clear. Here, data can be collected when users cede the rights to their data to mobility providers or automobile manufacturers when making a purchase or using services. If users get added value from an appealing product or functioning service – for instance, in the myAudi app or directly through the displays used for the car’s operating system – and if their approval is obtained, they’ll accept the data collection. At any rate, this is the broadly concurrent expectation of the experts surveyed for the study.

Data protection and data security

Since the extensive digital infrastructure needed for autonomous driving also offers opportunities for manipulation – for example, through hacker attacks – corresponding security standards need to be developed early to ensure data protection and data security. Automobile manufacturers and mobility providers are implementing highly efficient cybersecurity concepts to that end. The regulations for new vehicle registration enacted by the 2020 UNECE are an important step toward building this trust. When it comes to processing personal data, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is especially relevant in the European Union. Its guideline is transparency and data minimization – i.e., always getting by with as little data as possible. However, it’s not only pursuant laws that are important, but also entities and institutions that control particular implementation. The EU is laying the foundations for this with the draft of the Digital Services Act and the Data Governance Act.

The differences between data protection and data security

More details

Data protection is all about protecting personal data. The focus is not on the content of the data, but rather the right to informational self-determination.


Data security is concerned with the general protection of data, regardless of whether or not it’s connected to a person. With data security, it’s not a question of whether data is allowed to be collected and processed, but rather what measures have to be taken to guarantee the protection of the data.

Data stewardship has to create trust

How companies and organizations handle data will play an increasingly important role for their reputations and social acceptance. The establishment of trust among users will thus become a driver of long-term corporate success. One possibility to that end is so-called data stewardship. This describes a relationship of trust between individuals and organizations within which the use of personal data is regularly “renegotiated” through a transparent process. Its goal is to enable people to autonomously decide about their data use (e.g., Apple’s App Tracking Transparency). In Germany, the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport’s Mobility Data Space offers an approach for how this could work.


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