By on January 9, 2014


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.

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39 Comments on “Jim Farley Backtracks On FoMoCo Tracking Drivers, GAO: Automakers Retain GPS Data...”

  • avatar

    Man that was an incredibly dumb statement despite the truth.

    State agencies have for awhile been able to accomplish the same thing using cell phones (on I64 in the Hampton Roads area they can estimate the time it takes to get to the outer banks using this technology as drivers with active cell phones give them a picture of the average speed).

    I suppose in a generation or two it will be irrelevant but for anybody who was born and grew up during the Cold War, privacy and the illusion of such is a persistent issue.

  • avatar

    Yes, that was stupid for Jim Farley to say that. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t want anyone to know of your whereabouts:

    * Drive a car made before about 2008 (just a guess)
    * Do not use OnStar or similiar services
    * Do use a navigation system, whether built-in or external
    * Do not use a cell phone
    * Do not drive in big cities, in particular on freeways with traffic monitoring cameras, or in downtown where security cameras can pick you up.

    Otherwise, if you are not up to no good, it is easier to turn a blind eye to the whole matter and go about your business. And I thought it was stupid for one of our resident Ford hating trolls to make a deal about this on a non-related thread; he so reminds me of Captain Ahab or Kahn in his unrational, all-consuming hatred of Ford.

    • 0 avatar

      “Otherwise, if you are not up to no good, it is easier to turn a blind eye to the whole matter and go about your business.”

      It’s that kind of ignorant complacency that is slowly allowing the government…particularly this administration…to destroy the Constitution.

      • 0 avatar

        True, but pick you battles wisely. You are better off venting your anger at Google, Apple, Geico, or the Federal Government and it’s Utah Data Center:

        Or, if you must stab at windmills, the Chinese.

        By the way the Utal Data Center will likely “only” hold 1 Exabyte = 1000000000000000000 bytes = 10 to the 18th bytes = 1000 petabytes = 1 billion gigabytes; or just 100 times more than data Ford would be collecting if this was true.

        • 0 avatar

          Where have I given you the impression I’m in any way ok with any of those?

          And for the record, I refuse to own any Apple products. Over-priced mediocrity.

        • 0 avatar

          Reg; ” pick you battles wisely”…? Privacy, is part of the critical battle, and at the front today. Why is that so damn hard for too many to get?

          • 0 avatar

            Think Metadata Isn’t Intrusive? Read This
            Graphs by MIT Students Show the Enormously Intrusive Nature of Metadata


    • 0 avatar

      You can also simply turn your cellphone off (or airplane mode which by law does not transmit anything).

      Use a standalone GPS without traffic updates. That’s a purely passive device which has not data transmit potential.

  • avatar

    How long before this data is subpoenaed by a district attorney for a particular vehicle’s whereabouts believed to be used in conjunction with a crime? Would Ford then have tp provide this?

    • 0 avatar

      District attorney, grand jury, any judge – the legal system always has a reason to demand confidential information. In Illinois, a sealed divorce proceeding was opened to force a candidate to withdraw from an election. All information collected is potentially public information.

    • 0 avatar

      Reg; “used in conjunction with a crime?” or a misdemeanor.

      Insurance company access to your metadata driving history, could play hell with your premiums, even if you are never ticketed and have a perfect record, yet have a little fun once in a while.

      Come on, every Mustang, Camaro, Vette, Porsche, etc. owner, is going to always dutifully follow the law to the letter. If they can’t afford the insurance any more, they won’t buy the cars. Insurance costs, a large part of what killed off performance cars in the early seventies.

  • avatar

    Many cars have a WARNING LABEL: “Powered by Microsoft®”.

  • avatar

    “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.””

    I call BS Mr. Farley, you spoke to much truth the first time. You can and do track your customers and probably OnStar does too. I also know if in the future law enforcement asked for this information you will either give it up willingly or you will give it up as part of a search warrant or subpoena. How do I know this? Billion dollar corporations seldom go on Libertarian benders, which is why the major ISPs were giving up private information to No Such Agency as early as 2002.

  • avatar

    This clown meant exactly what he said. He’s apologizing because he got caught telling the truth.

    We all know how Ford hates the truth.

    This is yet another reason, in a list of many, to not buy Ford’s unreliable garbage. Now their tracking your every move.

    It’s incredible how such a poorly run company with such incompetent people at the top has customers. Really shows how dumb this country has become.

    • 0 avatar

      This is so stupid. Have any of you even thought about what you are saying? I play with data and databases for a living; so lets design what you are talking about.

      Let’s first decide what will be retained. You could just retain everything, but let’s just say they retain your VIN number, GPS coordinates, date/time, and current MPH. For the sake of arguement, let’s just say this takes up 100 bytes of storage space per record, including overhead for support and analysis software.

      Most GPS systems sample on the order of seconds, or fraction of a second. If they retained only every hour, that would be of minimum use in their evil plans to rat on you, every minute would be more helpful, but let’s just say they retain every second. There are 31,536,000 seconds in a non-leap year.

      Now, multiple it by the number of cars sold, say in the past 5-10 years that are still on the road. I will let others provide a better estimate, but for the time being, let’s say 10 million.

      So, the build this database of data on Ford’s evil customers, it would take 100 x 31,536,000 x 10,000,000 or 3.1536 x 10 to the 16th power bytes, or roughly 3,000,000,000,000,000 TB of storage space to retain just a year’s worth of data. It would be less if you only collected when the ignition was on; but no less than a factor of maybe 1,000.

      I don’t know which is more amusing — the though of Ford actually PAYING the cost of the server resources and well paid IT folks it would take to maintain this data, or the thought of Ford paying employees to gleefully go through this data and rat on their customers.

      Yes, they retain this data, but probably no more than days at the most. Which means by the time that imaginary subpoena is served, the data would be gone. Unless you are going to tell me that Ford also pays to archive this data.

      Save your hate for Apple, which admits it collects and uses Location Service data, or Geico; which wants to put a box in your car, start you off at low rate; then ding you every time you break the law, or based on the amount you drive (which must also take some data collection; more some than others.) The same could be said for them; though the Boston bombers proved that security cameras, phone records, and public help are all it takes to catch someone in just a few days and try them.

      Take off your Ford hate hat, step away from the computer and out of your mother’s basement, and go get some fresh air. It is a beautiful day here; but don’t take your iPhone with you, or people will know where you been.

      “…To the last, I grapple with Ford; from hell’s heart, I stab at Ford; for hate’s sake, I type my last keystroke at Ford.” – Thornmark and Z71_Silvy

      • 0 avatar

        Wow…a lot of assumptions there.

        • 0 avatar

          Probably all conservative:

          60 sec/min x 60 min/hr x 24 hr/day x 365 days/year = 31,536,000 seconds

          I took the time to look for Ford sales on Wikipedia:

          2004 3,331,676
          2005 3,153,875
          2006 2,901,090
          2007 2,507,366
          2008 1,988,376
          2009 1,620,888
          2010 1,935,462
          2011 2,143,101
          2012 2,250,165
          2013 2,493,918

          100 bytes per record is reasonable; even if I am off by a factor of ten, that’s one digit off.

          Assuming you only use your car 2 hours a day, and data is collected only when the ignition is on; you still get:

          60 x 60 x 2 x 365 x 10,000,000 x 100 or 2.628 x 10 to the 15th power.

          Try again, Captain Ahab.

          • 0 avatar

            100 bytes per second is way to much. Unix timestamp is 4 bytes, longitude & latitude are 3 bytes for near inch position and speed is one byte. VIN etc. don’t change After compression you are left with 2 bytes per second max if the car is moving otherwise near zero. Make it drive 2 million seconds per year (slightly less than your 2 hours but it is every day) and you end up with 1 4TB hard disk per year per million cars. Not exactly earth shattering for Ford, who only makes a few million cars per year. Besides the car would need a gps unit with antenna and i don’t know if every Ford comes with a antenna for GPS but it is not something you can hide.

          • 0 avatar


            That would be on the low side. I would debate whether you store a 19 digit VIN number composed of alphanumeric characters in a single byte, along with the current speed; and that doesn’t take into account the remaining computing overhead. But whether you are talking terabytes, pentabytes, or exabytes; that is still a lot of data composed of thousand-million or million-million records; and once again, if Ford is not selling it; then why would they bother to retain it. If corporations are about making money; what monetary gain would they get in return for the cost of collecting, retaining, and analyzing it.

        • 0 avatar

          Who needs a car to track someone:
          44° 50.013′, -92° 55.983′

        • 0 avatar

          Again, a lot of assumptions.

          But nice try

        • 0 avatar

          Wow…a lot more logic than in any of your posts

      • 0 avatar

        jhefner – one of the best rebuttals I’ve seen in a long time.

        Unfortunately when one is dealing with a fanboy, logic is a lost cause. A lack of logic is required to become a fanboy.

        @Z71_Silvy – ever hear of OnStar?

        • 0 avatar

          Yep. My vehicle doesn’t have it.

          And what exactly am I a fanboy of?

          Because reality (again something a lot of people do not deal in) I’m not a fanboy of any brand what-so-ever.

          • 0 avatar

            Like you know anything about reality. You are in your own little world.

          • 0 avatar


            You deny being a fanboy?

            Well, your comments towards Ford were not made a person with any sense of reality.

            “It’s incredible how such a poorly run company with such incompetent people at the top has customers.”

            Where is the evidence that Ford as a company is poorly managed?

  • avatar

    Ass clown got ahead of himself. Maybe that is a bit harsh, but since we are tracked by the government, private enterprise, and Chinese – more then likely – it would not be to surprising that Ford might want to figure out how to sell someone this information to bolster it’s bottom line. If Google has made a living out of it, why can’t Ford? Maybe the rub is in the fact that you paid a lot of money for that fancy new car that is tracking you now, where Google’s service have been free.

  • avatar

    Funny, this same topic came up on another site I visit. As jhefner pointed out, who has the capacity to store it or analyze it?

    Those paranoid about the government spying on us have to remember that it is the government spying on us………… in other words, once they figure out what to do with the data, it will no longer be relevant and neither will be the government.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks Lou_BC. You are right of course; and the numbers I gave were just for one year; they would have to collect that data year-over-year.

      I have worked with tables with a million records on SQL Server, and it is not fast. Here, you are talking about a million TIMES a million TIMES another hundred or so records, year after year.

      No single database or server could hold it all; nor would you want one to. So, you are talking about a massive data facility to capture and work with all this data.

      If Ford was truly selling it; it would be no secret; we have an idea what Goggle, Apple, and others do with theirs. So, if they are not selling it; tell me again why Ford would even maintain a data facility for all of this data?

      71_Silvy complains about how dumb this country has become; but if you just do a little math; it is clear how rediculous this whole notion is. But, it fits some folk’s playbook, so off they go ranting about something that doesn’t even exist. THAT is typical for this social media driven country; and why I don’t participate in political and environmental discussions anymore.

      Yes, there were a lot of assumptions; but assumptions and a little logic trumps blind ranting every time.

      • 0 avatar

        You guys don’t understand, his opinions are fact.

      • 0 avatar

        @jhefner – for many it boils down to primitive caveman reflexes. We are not built to fit into a massive society like the USA nor are we hardwired to make sense of it all.

        We create our own safe little clans/tribes or we attach ourselves to pre-existing clans/tribes. Those can be based around sports teams, motor-vehicle brands, motor-vehicle types, politics, religion, socioeconomic status etc.

        Anything that does not fit our recognized tribe or our tribal ideology is to be attacked and/or ridiculed.

        Silvy has his own tribal mentality and logic will never break those bonds. People like to think that they are logical but emotions are in control. A perfect analogy is a rider on an elephant. We convince ourselves that the rider is in charge of what we do and say but the opposite is the case. The elephant is in charge.

  • avatar

    “Maybe in a few billion years.” Lou-BC, we haven’t got that long, maybe a thousand years at best, more like less then 300, and by then, we will, the survivors, be tribal nomadic bands, again.

    Earth Abides_George Stewart

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