Dennis Rodman isn't the only person suffering from foot-in-mouth disease this week. Jim Farley, Ford's Global VP for Marketing and Sales, succumbed to it, too, and now, he's trying his best to recover.
Farley began to show symptoms on Wednesday night at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where he participated in a panel discussion about privacy in the digital age. In the course of that discussion, Farley talked about the GPS devices found on many vehicles and how much data they supply to Ford. He said, "We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you're doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing."
Alas, what's said in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas, and when those comments hit the interwebs, both Ford and Farley quickly started backpedaling. The following day, Farley went on CNBC to explain himself, saying, "I definitely left the wrong impression with my comments, and I regret it... It's important to me that our customers know where we stand and that we do not track them."
Well, at least not without their consent.
Unfortunately for Farley, his comments come at a time when many Americans are worried about their personal privacy. Not only are there ongoing concerns about the NSA's spying efforts, but this was also the week that the General Accounting Office issued a fairly ominous report on the data that's collected by automakers, app-builders, and navigation firms. The gist of that study is that, whether you know it or not, you're supplying a lot of companies with a lot of data about yourself, and there are no federal regulations governing how that data is stored, shared, or deleted.
In the larger context of connected cars, we understand Farley's comments. He wasn't saying that Ford knows whether you, John Smith, have been naughty or nice; he was simply saying that Ford has access to a great deal of information about consumers, and although little of it can be linked to specific individuals, it helps Ford improve its products.
But while Farley's comments were meant to be fairly innocuous, they nevertheless highlight the legal and ethical issues surrounding data encryption, collection, mining, and selling -- all of which are very real problems in our increasingly interconnected, always-on world. Ford can't fix those problems itself, but hopefully, it will be part of the discussion.