Carmakers And Tech Giants Are Battling For Control Of Your Car’s Data

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at
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Modern cars, like virtually every connected device in our lives, are generating tons of data. This begs the questions: Who owns that data? And who gets to benefit from it, the vehicle owner, automaker, or someone else?

To get a better understanding of the current state — and potential future — of vehicle data, we sat down with Mike Ramsey, senior research analysis at Gartner.

More than data ownership, however, we were keen for Mike to shed some light onto services and benefits our vehicle’s data may provide now and in the future.

Ride: For car owners who are not necessarily familiar with what sort of car data is being collected these days, can you give us a baseline understanding of the sort of data modern cars are collecting and recording?

Mike: If your car has an embedded modem in it with a SIM card (all new GM and Audi vehicles, for example, with built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi), it could be collecting a huge variety of data. This includes performance of the engine and transmission as well as various parts inside the car.

If you’ve installed an OBD II-port dongle from a telemetric company like Automatic, Vinli, Syncup for T-Mobile or Hum from Verizon, location information — including points of interest, where people go, and where they stop — can also be collected. But it is not being sent to the automakers. Data collected from the dongle is being sent to those third-party service providers.

There are other sets of information that could be collected about your car usage that’s collected on apps that you have running on your phone. Mostly, that’s just location speed, acceleration, and braking.

Mobility Experiment: Big Data Drive, Dearborn

Ride: In the future, what other data could be collected? Who owns that data? Where is it being stored?

Mike: The reality is, most of the information that is collected is a small subset, because the volume of data is very high. So, if you collected absolutely everything off your car, all the information that it produced would be very expensive to store and it would overload the carmakers.

So, what’s going to happen increasingly in the future is that your car will have more computing power onboard. It will analyze a lot of the data, then send metadata or packages of data that offer insights [to carmakers], instead of raw data, up to the cloud.

The amount of sensors on the cars is changing. The kinds of data is changing, too. Wider sensors, more radar sensors, and more forward-facing camera monitoring systems are going to produce an entirely new set of interesting data. There are a lot of companies looking for ways to actually monetize [that data]. In the future, new data will lead to new services and monetization capabilities. That’s part one.

Part two is ‘who owns the data?’ That is subject to a lot of debate. Ultimately, the consumer is supposed to control access to their own data, right? Theoretically, they own it. But let’s just be honest, your data — without tools to read and interpret the data — is pretty meaningless.

The manufacturers are saying, “We control this, because we can make sense of it.” As a way to say: “We control access to this data, we don’t own it. But we control access to it, and, even if you want to access it, we are going to charge you to access it.”

And so all of that is coming to great debate over who owns the data. Everyone generally agrees that the consumer should have rights over how their data is used. Who controls access to that data is the football that is being passed around.

Ride: What data is my vehicle generating that is actually proprietary, or would be scary if it fell into the hands of bad actors? I can’t really think of anything. Am I missing something?

Mike: First of all, location data is the one thing that is theoretically the most private. But there are other kinds of data that, if it were tied to you specifically, could be valuable for advertisers and marketers.

For example, with your non-anonymous location data, they could say, “John Doe went to his mistress’s house.” Bad actors could then send a note to his wife, encouraging her to hire private investigator.

Cars are increasingly becoming a purchase portal. There is private information that could theoretically be sold off that is already in apps today. Cars are sort of late to the game with getting in the data-monetization market. However, carmakers are going to be held to a higher standard, because this is the next frontier.

Domino’s AnyWare pizza-ordering app

What is developing is this idea of an exchange of value. For example, if you are going to sell the consumer’s data, or use their data, the consumer has to have a very upfront understanding of what they get out of it; they are not just going to give it for nothing.

It’s just like with the Waze navigation app. Waze is “free” because Waze has ads now. And Waze is selling anonymized location data to advertisers.

Ride: Is there a point at which cars generate enough data that sharing of that data becomes a benefit for consumers? For example, could automakers offset the cost of vehicles based upon the ad dollars they will receive by pushing ads into customers’ dashboards?

Mike: I don’t know if it will ever reach that level. There are some people out there who will say that is something that could happen. My view is: probably not.

Ride: Toyota and Audi have talked about using their cars’ front-facing cameras to create, essentially, real-time Google street-view maps. Are those the sort of navigational benefits drivers will see in the future?

Mike: That’s the idea. There are companies right now like Mapbox, which is a competitor to HERE, the navigation company that is literally using that kind of technology — forward-facing cameras — to augment live mapping capabilities. That kind of thing is absolutely in the pipeline. However, it’s still a little bit out.

Mobileye, owned by Intel, uses forward-facing cameras to do emergency braking and lane keeping. They also have a product called REM (Road Emergency Management) that is supposed to be using the forward-facing cameras to help build high-definition maps for use by autonomous cars.

That would be a business model in which automakers would be giving that data over, not selling. They would give that data over, so that third-party companies could build the high-definition, real-time navigation products.

Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, Inc. (“TRI-AD”) and CARMERA, Inc. (“CARMERA”) announce they are joining forces to conduct a proof of concept about developing camera-based automation of high definition (“HD”) maps for urban and surface roads.

Ride: Is there a point at which tech companies entirely take over the creation and management of in-car infotainment ecosystems from the automakers?

Mike: Car companies really, really, really do not want to outsource the data monetization to the tech giants. Carmakers are doing everything they can to keep the tech giants out. To be fair, the tech giants have not actually extended much of an olive branch to automakers.

The tech companies have essentially said: “We can make your services happen. We can create ecosystems for you that are seamless and easy. Your consumers will benefit. And that has some value.”

Basically, the tech firms are saying to automakers: “We get the value from doing it. We are going to monetize this data, not you.”

The Touch Pro Duo infotainment system is central to the digital interior experience in the New Range Rover Evoque.

Car companies would like to monetize the vehicle data, and create the services off of it. But they lack the ecosystem know-how of an Apple, Google, or Amazon. This dilemma explains the great tension in the auto industry right now.

Carmakers could just go to Apple or Google and say: “You create an infotainment ecosystem. We will take whatever you have.”

There are some automakers actually moving in that direction, because they realized that it would be so hard for them to monetize the data. So, they are just going to hand over the service to the big guys and concentrate on their own internal monetization.

Ride: Do automakers ultimately fear that in thirty years they are just coach builders for Apple and Amazon?

Mike: Yes, that’s it.

Ride: Circling back, do you think customers should be excited or scared about their vehicle data being collected?

Mike: If people are truly worried about their information being collected … that ship sailed 15 years ago.

They should be excited. This liberation of data will make it more possible for people to understand what’s happening with their car.

Imagine your dealer reaches out to you and offers service before a catastrophic failure. That’s because they can see from your car’s data that your tire tread is low and your braking distance has increased.

Yes, some people say this is too intrusive. The fact is that you, as a consumer, should be able to control the access to your data and who it’s shared with.

About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at
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