Automakers are increasingly partnering with Big Tech companies to give those companies exclusive access to your vehicle. But is this a form of monopolization that’s going to cause problems down the line? Are policymakers going to be forced to regulate connected technologies in cars to prevent three companies from cornering the connected vehicle market? A new Politico article from Leah Nylen investigates the stakes.
On one hand, having a vehicle that’s designed based on the smartphone software with which you’re familiar can be appealing. If you buy a Ford with a suite of Google software and you’re already an Android user, you’ll probably find it easy to adjust to a new car — which can, with all that extra connectivity, become an office, living room, gaming center, and lounge on wheels. But instead of having cars equipped with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, you’ll have to pick one or the other.
But five years from now, are Google, Amazon, and Apple going to be the only options for connected automotive tech? Will your car purchase become entirely dependent on the phone or tech company you’ve already committed to, making it next to impossible to decide you want to make the switch from Apple to Android? And are consumers, drivers, and riders going to have no choice but to hand all that data over to the Big Tech companies that have taken over our cars?
It’s a pressing concern in our current era. We expect our cars to come equipped with all the latest technology, but vehicles are designed on a three- to five-year lag. It makes sense to speed along tech by partnering with a tech company — but that hasn’t always been a good idea.
Here’s a little more from the article:
“These companies have an amount of data on us that they shouldn’t have, and they have a history of not using it in responsible ways,” said Katharine Trendacosta of the digital civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation. “They have a history of going back on promises they have made about that data.”
She cited Google’s pledge during the DoubleClick acquisition in 2008 — which it later reneged on — not to combine data from its consumer products with that from its advertising services.
Eric Gundersen, Mapbox’s former CEO, complained to Congress this spring about how Google’s restrictive contracts are impacting his company’s ability to offer alternatives. And those exclusive deals will continue to give Google a leg up over time, he said.
“It’s the data piece that is so critical here,” he told a House panel in February. “It’s not just about the user app data: the map and the operating system all the way down to the data coming off the vehicle back to the cloud. This is how AI learns … it’s all about the data.”
The tech giants “already profit enough off of where we go and what we search for. Getting a foothold in the auto industry could turn all our movements into profitable data points,” said Sarah Roth-Gaudette, executive director of Fight for the Future, a progressive advocacy group focused on digital rights.
The United States’ lack of a national privacy law and relatively lax anti-monopoly enforcement mean there’s little preventing Google, Apple and Amazon from dominating this new market, Roth-Gaudette said.
It’s important “we get these important guardrails in place so it doesn’t go the worst possible way,” she said.
The whole article is worth a read, since it details the slow creep of Big Tech into the automotive sphere, and it posits some fascinating questions about how regulators need to consider the future of technologies that don’t even exist yet. The full story is here.