Ford’s marketing head Jim Farley apologized on Thursday for remarks he made at the Consumer Electronics Show the day before saying that the automaker tracks their customers via their cars’ navigation systems. He said that Ford knows where and when customers drive their vehicles but doesn’t share or sell that data outside the company.
“We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it,” Farley said, according to a report in Business Insider. “We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.”
After Farley’s remarks at the CES propagated, Ford Motor Company spokesman Wes Sherwood denied that the company tracked drivers’ movements. “Ford is absolutely committed to protecting our customers’ privacy. We do not track our customers. No data is transmitted from the vehicle without the customer’s express consent.”
That may be so, but technically customers give consent when they use a navigation or voice-activated system.
Backtracking in a CNBC interview on Thursday, Farley apologized and said that he’d given the wrong impression. “We don’t monitor, aggregate data on how people drive. I’ve given people the wrong impression, I regret that,” he said.
Farley told Business Insider that his remarks at the CES were hypothetical. “I absolutely left the wrong impression about how Ford operates. We do not track our customers in their cars without their approval or their consent. The statement I made in my eyes was hypothetical and I want to clear this up. I want to make it super-clear because this is very important to Ford — I’m the last person who wants to misportray this to our customers.”
The brouhaha over the use of GPS and other data collected by cars comes as AAA this week urged car companies to protect that data and as a U.S. government report found that major automakers are indeed keeping travel data from vehicles’ onboard navigation systems.
“The data that today can be routinely collected by cars includes some of the most sensitive data that can be collected about a person, including information about their precise location and driving habits,” said Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA.
The Government Accountability Office released a report on Monday that found that major automakers are keeping information collected from vehicles’ navigation systems, though they have differing policies about what data they collect and how long they store it.
There are legitimate reasons why an automaker would need data about a car’s location, such as providing traffic information, the location of the nearest filling station, emergency roadside assistance, and tracking stolen vehicles. The GAO report did find that, “If companies retained data, they did not allow consumers to request that their data be deleted, which is a recommended practice.”
The GAO study looked at the practices of GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan as well as navigation system makers Garmin and TomTom was well as applications like Google Maps and Telenav. Policies of individual companies were not identified. The report did say that car companies had taken some steps to insure privacy including not selling the personal data.
Privacy advocates have expressed concern that collating, selling or sharing vehicle location data could result in consumers being tracked, stalked or spied upon as well as being the victims of identity theft.