Automakers Concerned About Google Data-Mining Us In The Car

June 15, 2015
Google Android Auto

Google Android Auto

Unless you live a very isolated, disconnected existence, you’re probably leaving quite the trail for Google.

Are you ready to leave more of a trail about how you stay connected in your car?

Of course we already do drive around with GPS-tagging, server-connecting smartphones in our vehicles. Yet Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, two systems that are coming to many new vehicles soon, are introducing an entirely new set of privacy concerns—concerns raised recently by several top executives of German automakers.

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Both systems allow you to use your vehicle’s infotainment-system screen to access apps on your smartphone—through an interface that’s harmonious with that of the smartphone. Since apps are constantly being updated and upgraded, smartphones are now typically kept less than two years, and vehicles are on the road for 11 years, on average, it makes a lot of sense.

Earlier this year, Google’s product manager for Android Auto, Andrew Brenner, said that the same privacy controls that already exist for Google Now and third-party Android smartphone apps in general apply here. “It’s exactly the same thing as having it in your pocket on your phone because it is on your phone,” he said.

But is that enough? In its simplest form, the use of Google products has always been a trade: some pretty nifty apps and services, in exchange for your data on how you use them.

Yet the Android Auto (and CarPlay) environments introduce a lot of questions—such as whether Google will keep location-based data linked to the vehicle.

Only as private as the least-private handset?

There’s also the issue of consent. If one family member who connects to a vehicle has privacy settings that aren’t as strict, yet the vehicle owner has tighter security settings, is the owner’s vehicle data kept under wraps? We haven’t heard of such a ‘meta’ vehicle privacy setting for Android Auto or CarPlay yet, although it might exist.

Automakers are, as it is, somewhat uneasy over the rapid growth of Google into the vehicle. And several of the German automakers that were the first to use Google mapping have recently been among those questioning the Silicon Valley giant’s hold on your driving data.

At an event this week also attended by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said that its “customers want to be at the center” of the benefits that come from connectivity, “and not exploited by it.”

“A car today is a second living room—and that’s private,” said Stadler, who added that vehicle owners want to be in control of their data and not subject to monitoring.

Top executives at Volkswagen Group and Daimler AG have also spoken out about the need for automakers to be in control of how vehicle data is stored. And furthermore, the German government is watching Google’s market positions on in-car systems and self-driving vehicle technologies for concerns of a developing monopoly.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche recently noted that Google tries to follow people throughout their day to collect data and use it for economic gain. “It’s at that point where a conflict with Google seems pre-programmed,” he said.

Automakers making good or selling out?

Automakers have, for several years now, been doing worse in a number of quality ratings because of in-vehicle technology—and most often, those infotainment systems. So these “smartphone-mirroring” systems could be a net positive for the automakers, even if they’re giving up some of the potential revenue from apps marketplaces.

Apple CarPlay in 2016 Chevrolet Cruze

Apple CarPlay in 2016 Chevrolet Cruze

It’s definitely not all delightful and flawless at this point. For instance, using Apple CarPlay to its fullest requires a hard-wire USB connection plus an exclusive Bluetooth connection. The lack of cable cutting and the occasional glitches we’ve seen in CarPlay demos speak to a technology that wasn’t built from the ground up for cars. Likewise, just as with Android Auto, only certain handsets and builds will work, and with wireless charging finally getting more widely installed how this clunky functionality is going to be received by consumers.

Recently we reported on how Toyota and Ford are partnering on some aspects of infotainment—specifically the part that would keep Apple and Google out of that primary spot on our dashboards.

The battle over in-dash real estate is by no means over.


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