By on September 19, 2018

GM marketplace
Automakers began hunting for new revenue streams about two milliseconds after realizing they could put the internet into vehicles. While the earliest endeavors involved ride-sharing applications and new infotainment features, companies are now beginning to see new opportunities via automotive e-commerce, data acquisition, and in-car marketing.

However, the delivery system used for these new sources of revenue pose a legitimate safety concern. Distracted driving is on the rise and shopping while behind the wheel isn’t likely to remedy the situation.

It’s an issue that’s been simmering on the back burner for a while now. Last year, General Motors became the first major automaker to launch a cadre of app-based services through its Marketplace interface. As of December, customers can order food, pay for gas, or make hotel reservations while driving. Prior to that, GM expressed an interest in adapting OnStar to deliver “personalized marketing offers.”

While our biggest gripe with that idea was that it was yet another step toward commodifying customer information and rampant in-car marketing, we’ve also prattled on about the potential safety problems associated with pecking away at your infotainment display when your eyes should be on the road. General Motors countered this by saying Marketplace was specifically designed to be safer and more convenient than using your phone. Of course, using the automaker’s proprietary tech to order goods and services also results in it getting paid through carefully chosen partnerships with various outlets.

Other companies took notice of how technology could be used to funnel customers down the financial avenues of their choosing. Hyundai is currently developing its own version of GM’s Marketplace, while other automakers are feverishly seeking partnerships for their own e-commerce endeavors. But they’ll all function roughly the same way: an app-based payment plan affixed to the dashboard.

In a recent report, The Wall Street Journal claims safety advocates have also taken notice, and don’t like what they see. After years of steady declines, the number of U.S. road fatalities increased in both 2015 and 2016. Safety groups believe the rise is likely driven by the inherent distractions associated with smartphones and in-car infotainment systems. While we’re also willing to entertain the idea that advanced driving aids allow motorists to further tune out while behind the wheel, dulling their driving skills, it’s a concern that’s much more difficult to quantify and remedy. Apps are a little easier to vilify. If they’re there, someone is probably going to get distracted by them.

“[Car companies] are trying to build cars that are like phones, rather than acknowledging that if you’re driving, you shouldn’t be trying to do these tasks at all,” said National Safety Council President Deborah Hersman.

According to the latest statistics available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is believed to have contributed to 3,450 fatalities in 2016 — about 9 percent of the 37,461 road deaths record that year. However, the actual number could be higher, as it’s often difficult to prove distracted driving was the underlying cause of an accident.

Further complicating things is just how dangerous in-car apps are when compared to whipping out a smartphone. Most of General Motors’ Marketplace services are intentionally streamlined to minimize the number of interactions while making a purchase. On the one hand, this is a good way to get someone to finalize an order. But it’s also a half-decent way to keep someone from spending more time than necessary futzing around with an app while the ground beneath them flies past at a mile per minute.

In a pinch, it’s probably better to have someone interacting with a larger device offering fewer choices and mounted nearer to the windshield than looking down at their phone. But stopping is always the safer alternative, and then it doesn’t really matter what device you’re using to order dinner.

Regardless, you’re likely going to have to exercise some self-restraint while behind the wheel, as app-based services are coming to cars en masse over the coming years. You’re also going to have to contend with those privacy concerns we’re always talking about.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The auto industry’s move into e-commerce is still in early stages, but auto makers see it as part of a broader bid to monetize connected-car data and services, which McKinsey & Co. forecasts could generate global revenue of $750 billion by 2030.

With more cars rolling off dealer lots with built-in internet connections, the opportunity to add more retailing services will only grow over time, say auto executives and analysts. They also expected demand for such capabilities to increase as driverless technologies advance, freeing drivers to perform other tasks on the road.

Auto makers’ efforts to harness data to build new services is likely to raise privacy concerns, especially amid heightened scrutiny over Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s handling of consumer data.

Facebook and Google have both grown incredibly fat from managing consumer data, and they haven’t been completely responsible or objective in how they’ve handled things. It’s also worth considering how rampant online advertising has become over the past five years. The world’s biggest social media outlets are now completely saturated with ads, YouTube continues sneaking in more un-skippable commercials, and Google steers vast amounts of data as it sees fit (despite growing scrutiny). That could all start occuring inside your car.

GM claimed it would use any data accumulated from Marketplace to track trends among large numbers of users, but would hold off on sharing individual users with retailers. However, Mark Zuckerberg also said Facebook would never sell or share user data in 2009. Things change.

Even though we’re approaching that bridge quickly, we’ll cross it once we get there. In the meantime, the matter of distracted driving has to be addressed. While connected vehicles open up new avenues of convenience (like networking with home devices or allowing for a more convenient way to pay for fuel), they’ve also opened up a pandora’s box. The danger is real for those who can’t keep themselves from interacting with touch screens. Because of this, we’ll need to decide whether or not something should be done.

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13 Comments on “Safety Advocates Getting Testy Over Automotive Apps, Consumer Data...”

  • avatar

    It’s about time someone noticed this. The manufacturers, under government pressure to contort their cars to fit CAFE, have been selling tech in place of good design. And the gullible public has been eager to eat it up. We have the ugliest cars in a generation. But they’re loaded with tech toys.

    What happened, tech people, to “do no evil?” Whenever I see someone fiddling with their smartphone or the touch-screen tablet propped up on their dash, I want to put some space between us.

    The 2018 Honda Accord I drove as a loaner recently is a good example. The system that nudges the steering wheel back into the lane is a prime example of nanny-state interference with driving, with the expected risk that people will come to rely on it and stop paying attention.

    That day, I was glad to get back to my 2007 Accord.

    • 0 avatar

      Where I live, turn signals seem to be optional and drivers with poor lane control are the norm. For that reason, I’d like to see more driver’s aids rather than less – these people already need help to stay in their lane!

  • avatar

    Looks like someone is going to need to create an ad blocker for cars. I use them heavily on both my desktop and portable devices because honestly, I don’t want the distraction OR the overhead most ads tend to demand of the hardware.

    • 0 avatar

      “Looks like someone is going to need to create an ad blocker for cars.”

      The issue with this on all platforms is that the sites are getting smarter, and have started refusing to show you the content when an ad blocker is enabled. For now, that just means go elsewhere – but what happens when almost every site uses anti ad blocker software?

      • 0 avatar

        The owners of those sites will suffer a rude shock as they learn that their content isn’t worth enough to endure the ads.

        • 0 avatar

          Agreed. I didn’t mind ads that have a specific spot to the side, but when they auto play videos at maximum volume, or pop up randomly, I had to go to an ad blocker. As you guys said above, if the site doesn’t allow me to access it with it on, then I go somewhere else.

      • 0 avatar

        @cognoscenti: “The issue with this on all platforms is that the sites are getting smarter, and have started refusing to show you the content when an ad blocker is enabled.”

        — Exactly my point. If they block the site on their own just to spite the ad blocker, they certainly don’t need MY business!

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I’m afraid that someone is going to decide that what we need to deal with distracted driving is to bring on more driver- assistance and autonomous-driving technology much more quickly. Ugh.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    When I drive I’m overjoyed to be AWAY from all that garbage. Also, I can’t believe that paying for one’s gas from the car is easier than paying at the pump. Around here Full Serve is a thing of the past. You gotta pump what you want – and pay for it first.

  • avatar

    One of my favorite things about my new car is the DISPLAY button that tuns the entire LCD display OFF. As soon as I’m done tuning the radio or setting up a podcast, that’s what I do, for a beautifully distraction-free dash. Too bad every car doesn’t have this! Video screens always beg for our attention, and we’re all pretty good about paying that attention to them. Hard to break that habit when you get into a car.

  • avatar

    It’s rather insidious. We were conditioned to fiddle with the knobs on the radio (or push one of five buttons) and adjust the heater in the old days. Then we could eat hamburgers and drink Cokes while we drove. Next thing you knew we were digging in the glovebox for a new tape to listen to, then CDs, so it’s logical for people to think they do no harm by programming something on the fly that’s more complicated than what was used to navigate space capsules.

  • avatar

    I can’t wait to help my 73 year old mother enter her email address and complex password into her GMC Jimmy (as my dad calls it, it’s really a Terrain) so she can make hotel reservations. Uh, no thanks. This is a horrendously stupid idea.

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