By on January 14, 2014
Photo courtesy of media.ford.com

Photo courtesy of media.ford.com

Last week, Ford’s Global VP of Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley, told a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that Ford has access to data on its customers’ driving habits via the GPS system installed in their cars. “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. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone,” he said. The next day Mr. Farley adjusted his statement to avoid giving the wrong impression saying that the statement was hypothetical and that Ford does not routinely collect information on, or otherwise track, drivers through their GPS systems without those drivers’ consent and approval. That approval comes from turning on and opting into specific services like 911 Assist and something called Sync Services Directions, a system that links the GPS system to users’ cellular phones. So that’s that, right?

I’m going to say right here that I believe Ford when they say they aren’t collecting information on individual drivers because, if you think about it, they really don’t need the level of detail that sort of tracking can provide. It matters little to Ford whether or not you like to run 5 MPH over the speed limit on your morning commute or just how often you go to the gym so it seems unlikely that they would seek to collect that kind of data. No, I think that, just as Mr. Farley speculated in the comments that followed his initial revelation, they really are interested in the big picture issues, the kind of data that urban planners may want or even the sale of bulk data to other marketers, say a retailer trying to determine the best place to open a new store.

Of course, what’s true about the Ford Motor Company may not be true of others. The Federal government, for example, may want to track the movements of certain people and state and local governments may want to link into that data stream to determine whether or not people are obeying traffic regulations. Right or wrong, necessary or not, the government using your cars’ onboard computers to keep tabs on you is something that will continue to evolve in the years to come, but it the actual topic I wanted to discuss today wasn’t government intrusion into our lives, it was where I think this is really headed – a new form of advertising.

Years ago I read a factoid that said when most Americans have the opportunity to opt out of junk mail, things like advertising brochures and store catalogs, we actually sign up for more. I think that’s as true today as it was back then. We don’t like intrusive forms of advertising like phone calls during the dinner hour and pop-up ads in our browsers, but generally speaking the average American doesn’t mind things like targeted ads that appear off to the side or above a website’s banner. These things are, we know, a necessary evil, the price we pay for free content. After all, someone has to pay the bills in order to keep a website running and targeted ads based on my browsing history are an effective way of getting me to see a product I might actually buy. I’m OK with that. If I read an article about a mini-van and, as a result, get links to companies that sell mini-vans, that’s actually helpful.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Infotainment, Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So why aren’t these things happening with our GPS units? If I frequent hamburger joints, then sponsored content might actually get me to try some place new, right? If I search for an auto parts store, why not do what Google Maps already does on my home computer and put sponsored links on top and then others down below? It’s the way the yellow pages used to work and so long as I get all the information I need then I’m willing to look at your sponsored content. Of course, I want something in return, maybe a free GPS head unit or a free satellite radio subscription, but if you make it worth my while and it could be a win-win situation.

I’m serious! It’s how the free market works and I, along with a great many others I am sure, don’t mind the intrusion as long as you make it worth my while. All that other “big brother” stuff is going to get sorted out eventually and I am firmly in the camp that believes that, since I’m not doing anything wrong, someone looking over my shoulder doesn’t hurt me at all. Give me something for free while avoiding pop-ups and you can track me all you want. In fact, I’ll be the first in line to subscribe and I’m sure that tens of millions of Americans will be right behind me. Bring on that better, brighter future.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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75 Comments on “GPS Tracking: Catch This Fly With Honey...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Ha ha that joker Farley, next he’ll be telling us we aren’t at war with Eurasia.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Law-abiding citizens will have nothing to fear.

  • avatar
    mikey

    On any given day “big brother’ is monitoring your every move. I wonder how many times a day, a security camera is watching us. Using a credit card,or a debit card maybe a loyality card? Their watching,its being monitored.

    So now our cars are tracking us. Big deal. How does one avoid it? Where do you move to? There is no escape.

    I figure it one of those things, you can do f.a to fix. So I really don’t care.

  • avatar

    I would LOVE for Chrysler to send me a print out of “every single time I was speeding” – or doing 5mph more than the posted limit.

    The only question is, who would deliver it to my house?

    UPS FREIGHT or FEDEX FREIGHT??? Cause I already know it’s gonna be larger than Bill Clinton’s Book “My Life”.

  • avatar

    I feel bad for the people with Ford’s lame ass “egoboost” engines.

    I’d bet that most of the time THEY AREN’T SPEEDING LOL.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    “I am firmly in the camp that believes that, since I’m not doing anything wrong, someone looking over my shoulder doesn’t hurt me at all.”

    Good. Enjoy your spam and unblinking eye.

    The rest of us will avoid and opt out where possible.

  • avatar

    I know the government is watching everything I say and do. I’d just like to meet the agent assigned to my case and sit down with them for a cup of coffee and a chat.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “I am firmly in the camp that believes that, since I’m not doing anything wrong, someone looking over my shoulder doesn’t hurt me at all.”

    What if the person looking over your shoulder is doing something wrong though?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “they really don’t need the level of detail that sort of tracking can provide”

    If you’re involved in a major wreck and there is the threat of litigation against the company, then you can bet that Ford is going to start paying attention to you as an individual. And unlike your wife, there is no Fifth Amendment protection from having your car testify against you.

    • 0 avatar

      This was my biggest worry actually, but I’m drawing a line between GPS tracking and the black boxes that are already mandated. I think our cars are going to increasingly testify against us, I just don’t think it will come from the GPS.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “I think our cars are going to increasingly testify against us”

        And that should bother you.

        Those of us who care about our privacy are in a losing battle, because it is being given away or sold off for pennies by others who don’t care about it.

        The problem is that you really have no idea how your data will be used against you. You just assume that everything’s A-OK because in your view, bad things can only happen to bad people.

        Big Data is much bigger than all of us, and we really can’t foresee exactly how it will be used against us, so it’s quite naive to just give the benefit of the doubt to the data miners. The one thing of which you can be sure is that it probably won’t be used in your favor.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    He was so giddy delight he had to let it out. I can at least see “some”
    advantage to car companies tracking cars. For instance, protection from litigation (think UA). The gub does not need to know all of this, but they more or less do and with the slow but sure change in thinking, not one thing will be your own eventually. Not even taking a piss.

    Bright future? The only bright future for this planet is if we crash into the sun.. and we won’t be that lucky.

  • avatar
    krayzie

    Also observe how they make it hard to change out the headunit with all that dash integration. Welcome to 1984.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Every time I start my Leaf, I must answer this question in order to see the other displayed info:

    http://static.ed.edmunds-media.com/unversioned/img/long-term/misc/leaf%20intro%20screen-thumb-717×477-89090.jpg

    The car will go no matter how – or whether – you answer the question.

    I say “OK” every time. No spam or stormtroopers yet. Hopefully just better data for Nissan’s engineers to use in the next gen EV.

    Users have complained about having to answer this question every time, but Nissan cites 4th Amendment concerns as the reason for this question. Hey – at least they ask.

  • avatar

    Probable low risk, but of major costs. I really don’t like being tracked. I don’t trust various third parties with the data. The car cos, the ins cos, the feds…

  • avatar
    mjz

    Oops! What did I say? Never mind.

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    The fact that an idiot like that could rise to the level of VP tells me all I need to know about why the Big Three will continue to teeter on the brink of insolvency. (Spare me the reply about how well Ford is doing. Retro Mustangs and Aston Martin copycat styling don’t a great company make.)
    .
    .

    • 0 avatar
      Kinosh

      Agreed. What on god’s green earth prompted him to say that?

    • 0 avatar

      +1

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      He was a VP at Toyota before Ford. He’s a pretty smart and tactful guy, I don’t know how this came out like it did.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m certain a great deal of his meaning was lost in the way the media tends to report these kinds of things. They were talking about technology and he simply said what he system could do as a part of a larger discussion.

        What I don’t get is why there is such a furor over what he said, didn’t people already suspect this was going on? Not even a little? The first time I used the GPS in our T&C I noticed that it displayed the speed limit of the road I was on. I knew right then what this could lead to. Add the location and speed data to the blue tooth set up I linked into my wife’s cellular and I know there is a possibility for a data stream. There we go, I’m being looked at again.

        But the fact is that I am not overly concerned about surveillance. Ater spending 9 years in Japan, I understand what it means to stick out like a sore thumb everywhere I go. I’m not bothered by it anymore. I know it has advantages that go along with the disadvantages – maybe I can’t do the slightest thing wrong and hope to go unnoticed but on the flip side, if I go to a reastaurant three times I’m a regular customer and get treated like a small time celeb.

        However, in a post up closer to the top, Clutchcargo raised a really good point about how individuals might use that data against me. That’s something I hadn’t thought of before and I’ll have to ruminate on it for a while.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    I was driving to work one day. Just like I’ve been doing for the past 26 years…

    I screwed-up (a situation was presented to me and I didn’t have enough time to react), and.. I… drove head-on… into an obstacle. Going around 70km/h.
    Within what seemed like one second I was talking to a person inside my own %$#^& destroyed car who was asking if I was allright and if I needed emergency help etc. Hind-sight feels just like the commercial you hear for said service. But wait, there’s more!
    The voice gave me my locaton with a precision I could not have given anyone at the time (after a close hello to five separate truck airbags). My cell phone was nowhere to be found (ended up under the rear seat).
    Fire truck arrived about 10 minutes later and so did medical service. I took a taxicab ride back home that day and my vehicle was a total write-off. I was lucky. Ended up with just a cut in my hand.

    I used to worry about privacy and boast my e46 had no NSA that I was aware of.
    To hell with it: My replacement commuter has not only 10 airbags it is 1/2 electric and I signed up to every option to be monitored I could. If they come to my house to do an oil change one day and find me in the backyard playing with my dog instead of my wife I don’t really care.

    You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.

    • 0 avatar
      E46M3_333

      If they came to my house unannounced, they’d find me playing with something, but it wouldn’t be my dog.
      .
      .

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Interesting counterpoint. Theoretical demand for privacy gets dashed on the rocks of unanticipated realities. I’m sure most of us would opt out of being tracked…until we (or our wife/kid/mom/etc.) had just such an emergency and needed help.

      Quite the conundrum.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        @ TOAD ”

        Interesting counterpoint. Theoretical demand for privacy gets dashed on the rocks of unanticipated realities. I’m sure most of us would opt out of being tracked…until we (or our wife/kid/mom/etc.) had just such an emergency and needed help.

        Quite the conundrum.”

        Not ~

        I’ve been lucky enough to survive several ‘ fatal ‘ collisions and I still don’t have nor want this .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          Toad

          Nate, I understand why somebody would not want this and agree with the right to turn it off. But having other family members on the road changes peoples perspective, especially if they are inexperienced or not very good drivers.

          For instance, if I had a teenage driver in the family I would have every safety/tracking nanny turned on AND routed to my cell phone in real time AND make sure my kid knows it. Not only would it alert me when my kid does something stupid, it might make them think twice BEFORE they did something stupid. Fleet managers would probably think the same way.

          In that and other respects, this issue can be a conundrum to most thinking people.

    • 0 avatar
      ja-gti

      GPS tracking will become the back-up camera mandate – so helpful in emergencies, so good at saving lives, that NHTSA mandates it for everyone. No opt out available. And then the NSA monitors that data to protect us from terrorism, and the FBI uses that data for criminal investigations, etc.

      Used to be, if someone wrecked their car, fellow motorists would feel compelled to contact emergency services. Soon they won’t even have to look up from their texting to call 911 when they drive by a crash.

      Face it, technological advances are going to cause government safety agencies to push for regulations to end human driving. The same has already occurred for styling (all cars have blunt, high front ends for pedestrian impact), and is occuring for drive trains to meet MPG requirements (turbo 4′s in luxury cars).

      Human driven cars will be the horse of the near future – illegal on the street and only for the wealthy who can afford to trailer them to private tracks to drive.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” and I signed up to every option to be monitored I could. ”

    This is fine if *you* want but the rest of us , not so much IMO .

    I think I’ll keep my old ‘ obsolete ‘ Garmin I fished out of the trash ~ yes they can track me on it but only when *I* choose to have it turned on and that’s rather rare .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      “but it the actual topic I wanted to discuss today wasn’t government intrusion into our lives, it was where I think this is really headed – a new form of advertising.”

      Great, so I pay ford 30 grand for a piece of AdWare? They then turn around and sell the data to another entity and make more money? Is this Ford or Google I am buying the car from? Thanks, but I’ll pass. Hopefully my Frontier S with roll up windows has none of these shenanigans.

  • avatar
    pragmatist

    That’s why there is a lot to be said for the traditional GPS with no transmit capabilities. Unlike the cellphone it’s not sending a detailed history of your travels to a remote site. And unlike the in car unit, you can completely switch it off.

    It of course is possible to make a system that will only transmit information in a crash or user panic situation… but certain people are not going to like that.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    In the modern Internet world, if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product.

    And while I, too, accept that the wealth of free content and services offered to me (this very website, my email, etc.) is only possible by allowing myself to be a product, I’m increasingly concerned that I have little say in what product I become. Some services already tailor content shown to me based on what is assumed to be my political interests and socio-economic status, which further limits what I see. This on-going pigeon-holing constricts one’s world view instead of expanding it. This subverts the great promise that was once implicit in the Internet, and much like broadcast television before it degrades the medium into just another way to sell stuff that people don’t really need and can’t really afford.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      You are the product, even if you are paying for it. Paying for it doesn’t help.

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        Quite possibly, but at least some for-pay products and services have an opt-out function as part of the reason that one would pay for something otherwise free. Yes, everything we do over the Net leaves a trail, but not everything leaves cookies and stores your every click.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I’m curious if I base model 12′ Mustang has such a thing, or if it’s only in cars equipped with the sync system?

    If so, I’d love to have some information. Show me where it is, give me a decent diagram, and I’ll disable it.

    More or less, I’d just figure out the resistance of the antenna and replace the antenna with a resistor of that value. That’s if the ECU doesn’t depend on a outside signal back. Either way, I could figure it out.

    So I’m challenging you TTAC, I think it could generate some good traffic/clicks for your sake. Be the first to break the real info on these systems, I’m sure a few of us here could help you back on the rest.

    That, or I’m just going to keep buying cars from the 1970′s and driving them everyday…. no seriously, I’m turning in the smart phone later this week, and next time I see a decent working typewriter at a antique/junk shop I’m buying.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    And yet another reason why I hate freakin’ Fords.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    In 50 years privacy will be a quaint rememberance. The only people who will miss it will be people with something to hide. All lifestyles are gradually becoming accepted, so be who you are and don’t worry about it.

    That said, I’m not particularly fond of big data. If you’re going to track me and see that I tend to grab a burger if I get off work early on the 4th Thursday of the month, or that I fill my gas tank every 8 days on average in February and every 6 days in July, make these data points available to me as well. If you’re using the info to track my life and market to me, give me the same info so I can defend myself (and my bank account) against the advertising that is being directed to me.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    There are those who piss and moan about the grid and those that attempt to live off it but in reality…99.9% of you are on it and will be on it because you like the creature comforts until the day you are toast or buried and we get the last gps signal. Passports have RFID, drivers licenses have/will have RFID (or whatever’s next). Pretty soon the toilet paper you buy will have RFID packaging, as do/will credit cards, debit cards, pacemakers, utility meters, and etc. we pretty much know when you drink, flush, and watch porn. All of you already have a digital footprint because you just gotta surf TTAC and complain about somebody else monitoring you (what? surfin’ TTAC…who’d be interested in that?). Cars are evolving as extensions of homes, thus surprise surprise that we will know when you are Jonesn’ for that Big Mac or the $10 BJ. Nowadays…if someone pays cash we get suspicious. What does that say? For what it’s worth…all of you have been shedding & dropping your DNA all over the planet for your entire life, thus your genetic signature is out there free for the taking. Nothing to stop anybody from profiling you. I suppose you could cover yourself in Vaseline, Saran Wrap and live in a Faraday Cage but then we’d know.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    “and I am firmly in the camp that believes that, since I’m not doing anything wrong, someone looking over my shoulder doesn’t hurt me at all.”

    The problem is that given the number of laws we have, everybody breaks a law unknowingly at one time or another. You probably can’t make it through a day without breaking some law. Given the knowledge of your every action all it takes is somebody with a grudge and the right connections to make your life a living hell. The reporter who’s digging up dirt on a politician/corporation/etc (a good thing for society) will find his life getting difficult. The candidate running against an incumbent will find his life getting difficult. I’m sure you can think of others.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      According to this author, on average we all commit three felonies a day:

      http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/1594035229

      It’s not a problem until you piss off the wrong person.

    • 0 avatar

      You make good, valid points. I think the legal angles, how your data logs could be introduced as evidence, will be worked out through the courts in the years to come. At this point, I think the courts will err on the side of caution, requiring warrants to get the logs, but we’ll see. It would be regretable if I am wrong about that.

      It’s the other stuff, the reporters, the nosy neighbor, the underhanded shenanigans that I hadn’t really thought about. I still think, however, that a great many people would sign up for the service if the pot was made sweet enough. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t happened already – of course the FCC might have soemthing to say about it, who knows?

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        “It’s the other stuff, the reporters, the nosy neighbor, the underhanded shenanigans that I hadn’t really thought about.”

        That stuff is much easier to get than data logs, and is more important, having them rabbling or crying on the witness stand will make a better impression on the jury and court reporters than charts full of numbers or diagrams (or a monotone expert witness); that just puts people to sleep. And, as others have pointed out; data can easily be maniplated or faked, which makes it easy for the defense to cast doubts on its validity.

        My guess is that data logs like these may be used to build a case; but it will be the traditional evidence that makes the case. The only exception may be some sort of automated ticketing, like red light cameras.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    http://static.ed.edmunds-media.com/unversioned/img/long-term/misc/leaf%20intro%20screen-thumb-717×477-89090.jpg

    404-Not found

  • avatar
    bachewy

    Enough of this and people will start to splinter off into ‘tech-free’ zones like in Surrogates.

  • avatar
    old fart

    How long before this technology generates automatic speeding tickets for revenue enhancement ?

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      I’ve always felt that 100% guaranty of a speeding ticket would lead to nearly 100% compliance which would drain untold millions from state funds. And we know as much as Big Brother likes data, it likes money more.

      To be honest I’m not sure what they’ll do once self piloting cars take hold – they’re already screaming that fuel efficient cars are hurting state funds due to reduced fuel tax income. What will they do when driving infractions are created by only those unable to afford self driving cars.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Good points mikedt. I’ve heard similar arguments about state funds, the problem is politicians don’t have the balls (or perhaps will) to downsize state depts. Gov’t workers can no longer be exempt from the phenomenon private sector workers have been forced to contend with for thirty years.


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