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
Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:
Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.