Fight Breaks Out Over Your Absolutely-No-Privacy-Ever Car

Automakers dread the Googleization of their cars

“We’re unwrapping the best holiday gift we could’ve imagined,” Google gushed as it unveiled its “first real build” of a self-driving car. It’s still a prototype. But hey, the thing got headlights and all. And it self-drives. What Google paraded in front of the media in May was just a mockup without headlights.

And while the rest of us do whatever we do over the holidays, if any, the folks at Google will “be spending the holidays zipping around our test track,” and they hoping “to see you on the streets of Northern California in the new year.”

Google is unlikely to become an automaker. It’s an information-age company. Its business model is to sell ads and monetize the personal and very private information it collects incessantly in a myriad ways on everyone and everything. So it’s working on installing its operating system and associated services into the self-driving cars of other automakers. They’re all dabbling in it. They already have real cars. All they have to do is figure out the rest, like how to get grandma across town without running over any stray pedestrians.

But those cars won’t be ready for years. Our ambulance-chasers simply aren’t up to snuff yet on accidents involving self-driving cars. And law enforcement needs to figure out who gets the ticket. Meanwhile, Google is trying to get its Android data-gathering system integrated into regular cars, based on the foot-in-the-door principle.

Google, like arch-rival Apple, has been in bed with automakers for a while. A year ago, it announced that it is partnering with Audi to build an Android-based dashboard information and entertainment system. Six months earlier, Apple had announced that it was working with GM, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Honda on an iOS-based dashboard system. For these systems to work, the user needs to plug in a smartphone.

But Google’s next-generation operating system, Android M, will run on the car’s processors and go far beyond the dashboard systems, Reuters reported. It would be connected to the Internet at all times. It wouldn’t require a smartphone. It would be sold as part of the car and run the entertainment and navigation features. It would give Google unrestricted access to the car’s cameras, GPS location, sensors, fuel gage, speedometer…. Are you speeding again in that 25-mph zone?

It would know where you go, where you stop, where you buy gas, where you pick up people, and who you pick up (their smartphones are all traveling together). It would include vehicle-to-vehicle communication whether you want it or not. It would give Google real-time access to just about every bit of data a car and its numerous sensors generate – the mother lode in the information age.

The opportunities to serve ads and direct drivers to those advertisers would be endless. Google, and not the automakers, would monetize the automobile. It would thrust itself between the driver and the car.

The way Google is pitching it: reduce accidents, cut emissions by sending drivers on the most efficient routes, and allow cities to reduce parking lots, explained Jens Redmer, Google’s director of business development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. But it would, of course, require sharing a database with automakers, he said.

Every time the driver needs a service of any kind – “find the best taco truck” – Google would benefit, not the automaker. You’d drive a BMW, but you’d experience Google. Brand and product differentiation would be watered down. Driving a BMW or GM would be similar because many functions drivers use would be neither BMW nor GM functions, but Google functions. It would bring the industry ever closer to the dreaded commoditization of cars where the only thing that differentiates them is price. It would bring the industry to its knees.

For Google and Apple, a car is just a mobile device – a medium for their operating systems and services. But automakers beg to differ. Particularly in Germany, where the auto industry is one of the most crucial and successful sectors, involving thousands of small and medium-size companies that depend on the big names whose luxury brands dominate the world and set the standards.

German politicians have jumped into the fray, trying to prevent the Googleization of the quintessential, sacrosanct German product. They particularly don’t want Google to obtain another monopoly or near-monopoly, this time for vehicle operating systems, which will, whether we want to or not, boil down to self-driving cars.

Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Google Chairman Eric Schmidt in October that the EU wanted to build its own “data architecture.”

A position paper by Chancellor Merkel’s party, the CDU, presented earlier this month, warned: “Soon, the performance of car digital systems will play at least as big a role in consumers’ purchasing decisions as the company that builds the car.” And this focus on Internet-enhanced driving “opens enormous potential for German carmakers and suppliers….”

“We mustn’t under any circumstances let our development become dependent on companies like Google,” Joachim Pfeiffer, spokesman for the CDU’s parliamentary bloc on economic and energy policy, told reporters.

They all see the immense potential of this data generated by driving and the people in the car. What they’re fighting over is who gets the data and who gets to monetize it. The German automakers agree, according to Bloomberg:

“The data that we collect is our data and not Google’s data,” Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said, echoing comments from. Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn and Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche. “When it gets close to our operating system, it’s hands off.”

So the fight is on between Google and automakers over who owns and controls your personal data so that it can be combined with other data, analyzed to the nth degree, stored forever, distributed or sold so that it can be used to direct you, manipulate you, or hound you. It will be monetized in endless ways. It will be shared, voluntarily or involuntarily, with governments that have their own designs. It – and everything in your car – will be targeted by hackers.

For these politicians and automakers in Germany – or anywhere else – this all-encompassing, seamless, borderless data collection effort that exceeds anything the NSA has ever come across in its wildest dreams is an immense opportunity. Clearly, ownership and control of this data is worth fighting over. But we already know who does not own or control your data: you! It’s not even up for discussion.

The “Internet of Things” is the next Big Thing, a universe of devices connected to data centers: your fridge, alarm clock, garage-door opener, pickup truck, thermostat, smart toilet, and other doodads. But beyond the hype, the purpose is becoming clear. Read… Goal of Booming ‘Internet of Things’: Monitoring, Sensing, Remote Control – Workers First, You Next

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  8 comments for “Fight Breaks Out Over Your Absolutely-No-Privacy-Ever Car

  1. Vespa P200E says:

    My 1st reaction upon seeing the goog car photo was – gee is goog getting into the cute motorized toy car business?

    Yes we know that goog is flushed with so much cash that they leased the Moffett field for some kine of intergalatic mis-adventure skunk project and hired legendary biotech ex-CEO in rather quixotic quest for some kind of fountain of youth elixir or something (so good founders can live forever?). Whatever but like great tech companies of the past like IBM and MSFT once seemed invincible found out the glory last so long until another tech disrupter rains on their parade.

    As for driverless cars – yawn. Wake me up when the the governments of the allow it only to retract it once lives are lost. Ah the follies of science fiction…

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Vespa, I’ve removed the pic and the two paragraphs that went along with it because they were distracting from the article, which is mostly about the operating systems and related software going into regular cars over the next few years, long before self-driving cars will be ready.

      Your comment made me realize that I’d screwed up by including those. Thanks!

      • Vespa P200E says:

        I was working for MSFT when it tried to get into the cable set top box business to access cable TV programming network and allow web surfing back in 2002. It failed to gain traction from the cable companies who were afraid that MSFT might dominate their turf. Too bad as initial release was horrible but 2nd version was pretty good and looking back ahead of its time.

        More of the reason the big automakers won’t allow Goog, AAPL and MSFT to get into their business and gather data and distract the drivers at will other than allow the limited OS to control the entertainment and mobile phone connections.

  2. Energy price crash looks like mortgage lending unwind that began in 2007. Expect Yellen to come out and proclaim the entire mess ‘contained’.

    Whether the cars drive themselves or not, unless they carry paying customers, make deliveries, pull a plow or spray water on fires, they are worthless toys. We want to live beyond our means and markets say we can’t. Who do you think will win this contest?

  3. Petunia says:

    Google may want to gather all the information in the world on everyone and everything, but do they have the capacity to index it all in any coherent way. Me thinks not. Their searching capacity can only find a specific item for retrieval. It does not analyze the data. They are biting off a lot more than they can chew.

  4. themisanthrope says:

    One small bit of comfort to this otherwise dark scenario: at least it’s not Microsoft.

  5. Julian the Apostate says:

    As a professional driver this intrusion into the driver’s direct control irritates me. We already have the accident avoidance crap on the trucks and I hate it. Taken to its logical conclusion it will eliminate my job.

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