Whenever the issue of vehicular privacy comes up, the discussion almost immediately pivots to individuals either defending or condemning the status quo. But this often happens without either side of the argument having a firm understanding of how much information is actually being obtained inside today’s automobiles.
While we’ve covered the topic frequently, articles have typically focused on specific issues rather than overall scope. But things are different this time, with the Mozilla Foundation recently issuing a study trying to assess just how far-reaching the automotive industry’s quest for data has become.
Before connected vehicles had become ubiquitous, numerous companies suggested that they would be networked into roadway infrastructure to improve safety and decrease traffic congestion. The concept even became a keystone issue for lobbyists trying to convince lawmakers to create regulations favorable to autonomous cars.
But it never manifested due to just how ambitious the overarching concept happened to be. The relevant technologies were still in their infancy and would require years of collaboration between multiple industries and various government agencies before anything got off the ground. However, things are reportedly starting to change. Pilot programs are being implemented on public streets, companies are working on the necessary hardware, and the U.S. government is asking for more with cash in hand.
Mercedes-Benz has made some changes to its commercial EQ website and now appears to be offering an “Acceleration Increase” subscription that boosts performance in exchange for an additional $1,200 per year. However it doesn’t do this by installing new hardware, Mercedes is just remotely goosing the powertrain it already has for massive gains. Though this also means it’s artificially limiting the output of those very same vehicles until its customers cave in and allow themselves to be locked into an annual fee.
Hyundai Motor Group – which includes Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis – has announced a comprehensive plan for its products from 2025 onward with the key components being perpetual connectivity, subscriptions, and software-defined automobiles. It sounds benign but actually represents a major shift in the way the company operates by calling for widespread platform standardization and leaning into novel revenue streams reliant on vehicles existing on its corporate network.
Despite having a formal mission objective to “save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been shifting some of its focus toward automotive connectivity over the last few years. In fact, the agency has recently updated its guidance for vehicle cybersecurity – which was originally penned in 2016.
While this raises questions about the true role of the NHTSA, most government regulators have been flexing their muscles as new automotive technologies lacking clearly defined directives become increasingly commonplace. Besides, the safety agency has at least managed to tie its cybersecurity guidance (which is currently voluntary) to hacking concerns that could affect how the affected car behaves and how that might translate into physical harm for those on the road.
Not to be outdone by the likes of BMW and Volkswagen Group, Tesla has decided to begin linking its connected services to a subscription-based payment plan. German automakers may be careening headlong into an era where you have to pay a monthly fee just to activate already installed hardware like heated seats. Though Tesla remains the master at conning customers into overpaying for nebulous features and we need only look at the Full-Self Driving suite, that has yet to manifest into genuine vehicular autonomy and just keeps getting more expensive, for an example.
While the standard connectivity package has always been free for the vehicle's lifespan, Big T is now saying that's only going to be true for the first eight years of ownership. The rationale here is that automotive companies have to continue supporting connectivity services and that there needs to be something to help offset that ongoing financial investment.
Michigan has opted to allow digital license plates, making it the third state – after California and Arizona – to give them legal backing. The state’s legislature passed the necessary laws in 2019, making it legal for vehicles registered in Michigan to utilize digital vehicle identification while traveling throughout the rest of the nation. But the company that produces them, Reviver, has only just recently found itself in a position to furnish them.
There’s a gaggle of Mazda owners in Seattle, Washington, that have reportedly been stuck listening to National Public Radio (NPR) over the last few weeks. The manufacturer has addressed the problem, saying the local affiliate had broadcast images files with no extension causing an issue on some 2014-2017 Mazda vehicles with older HD radio software. This effectively bricked the infotainment system on some vehicles, locking them into listening to NPR and out of literally everything else.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a formal investigation into 580,000 Tesla vehicles sold since 2017 that allowed customers to play video games inside the vehicle. The company has allowed users to play a variety of games while vehicles are in park, some of which allowed drivers to use the steering wheels and pedals as part of the controls, for quite some time. But an over-the-air software update permitted a few of them to be launched while the car was in motion by the passenger in the summer of 2021. Called “Passenger Play,” the service was limited to games that only used touchscreen controls.
It’s since been axed, however, regulators have taken an interest following some manufactured outrage. The NHTSA has faulted the feature as part of the ongoing distracted-driving problem in an attempt to link it to its crusade against Autopilot. The agency has launched a preliminary investigation into 580,000 Tesla Model 3, S, X, and Y vehicles to determine if they’re attention-sucking deathtraps.
A little over a decade ago, it seemed like everyone I knew was abandoning cable packages for online streaming services. They were cheaper, on-demand, and offered more choices with fewer advertisements. But as the years progressed, companies stopped selling their media to a handful of online video platforms and started building their own. Programming became more transient and isolated, forcing consumers to buy into additional subscription services. We’ve since hit a point where the overall consumer experience has diminished and grown more expensive, despite the steady influx of competition.
While automakers have been dabbling with subscription services of their own, their earliest attempts turned out to be such overwhelmingly bad deals that the public refused to play along. But they’re not giving up that easily. Industry players have been trying to figure out ways to charge customers indefinitely for years and are starting to settle upon subscription packages that can unlock hardware that’s already been installed into the vehicle or add software that can be downloaded via over-the-air (OTA) updates. Love or hate it, vehicular connectivity has opened up the door for new sources of revenue and businesses everywhere are eager to take advantage — with most companies projecting exceptionally healthy profits for the years ahead.
When people started burning down 5G towers in fear, the practice seemed a little misguided. But if you happen to be the owner of a connected automobile, there’s a chance you’ll be wishing enough of them had been taken down to delay those low-latency spires from becoming the default broadcasting network.
While you were probably aware that 3G cellular networks will be shut down in the U.S. next year so the telecom industry can focus in on 5G, you may not have been hip to the fact that this could totally nullify the connected features inside of your car. Unfortunately, loads of automobiles manufactured the early days of phone pairing and internet integration won’t be able to make the journey into 5G like the new phone or tablet you purchased. Worse yet, there are even some modern vehicles that are about to become a lot less feature rich with companies that have no intention of offering updates.
On Tuesday, Stellantis announced a plan to cultivate €20 billion ($23 billion USD) per year by 2030 via “software-enabled product offerings and subscriptions.” However, the automaker will first need to increase the number of connected vehicles it has sold from 12 million (today) to 34 million by the specified date.
This is something we’ve seen most major manufacturers explore, with some brands firmly committing themselves to monetizing vehicular connectivity through over-the-air (OTA) updates, data mining, and subscription services. Though much of this looks decidedly unappetizing, often representing a clever way for companies to repeatedly charge customers for equipment that’s already been installed.
Most of us have synced our phones to a vehicle to play music, unwittingly funneling personal information to the manufacturer in the process. But only an elite few have used their mobile device to digitally summon an automobile out of a garage or remotely tell it to pre-condition interior temperatures to the desired specification. However, that’s likely going to be the future and Apple would very much like to be leading the charge.
The tech giant is reportedly developing a way to better integrate smartphones with cars by accessing systems that are currently unavailable to CarPlay. Apple’s new program, internally known as IronHeart, seeks to collaborate with automakers so that its phones can network with vehicles in new and interesting ways. It’s effectively CarPlay 2.0 and sounds as though it would be giving the company access to just about every item drivers might interface with on a daily basis.
Frequently on the cutting edges of technology, the automotive industry has been slamming chips into vehicles to facilitate communications ever since General Motors launched OnStar back in 1996. This evolved into cars boasting reliable navigation systems and remote vehicle diagnostics until they literally started becoming mobile internet hot spots.
Now the industry wants to further ingrain connectivity by equipping all vehicles with 5G — opening the road for new features and the ability to harvest your personal data more effectively.
This has required deals with tech chip manufacturers like Qualcomm, which requires companies to sign a patent license agreement before actually selling any of its hardware or software. But regulators around the globe worried the practice may be monopolistic, violating antitrust laws. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a case against the business in 2017. Despite winning that case in 2019, a U.S. appeals court overturned the decision earlier this month, deciding Qualcomm could continue conducting business as usual. Now, tech companies (mainly Qualcomm rivals) and a gaggle of automakers are urging the FTC to seek an appeal following the loss.
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