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Auto firms: Keep your hands off our data

2015-07-10 10:14

TAKING A STAND: Several automakers are refusing to share some in-car data with Apple and Google for their in-car app systems. Image: Shutterstock / Zeynep Demir

SAN FRANCISCO, California and DETROIT, Michigan - Automakers are limiting the amount of data they share with technology partners Apple and Google through new systems that link smart phones to in-vehicle infotainment systems.

The idea is to defend access to information about what drivers do in their cars.

Auto companies hope that such vehicle data will one day generate billions of dollars in e-commerce, though they are just beginning to form strategies to monetise that information.

NO DATA

Apple and Google already make money from owners of smart phones by providing products and services from digital music to targeted advertising and connecting phones to car systems will almost certainly extend their reach.

However, as infotainment systems such as Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto become more widespread, auto companies hope to keep tech providers from gaining access to a wealth of potentially profitable information collected by in-car computer systems.

Some auto companies have specifically said they will not provide Apple and Google with data from a vehicle's functional systems - steering, brakes and throttle, for instance - as well as information about range, a measure of how far the car can travel before it runs out of fuel.

Don Butler, Ford's executive director of connected vehicle and services, said: "We need to control access to that data. We need to protect our ability to create value from new digital services built on vehicle data."

HUGE STAKES

The stakes are potentially huge: General Motors told investors early in 2015 that it expected to realise an additional $350-million (about R4.2-billion) in revenue over three years from the high-speed data connections it is building into its cars.

Consultant AlixPartners estimates global revenues from digitally connected cars will grow in value to $40-billion (about R480-billion) a year worldwide by 2018 from $16-billion (about R190-billion) in 2013 and auto companies would like to keep as much of that money as possible.

Friedmar Rumpel, vice-president in AlixPartners' automotive practice, said: "The risk is, if you give up control and somebody else figures out that business model, then you lose the future revenue stream."

Auto companies hope to profit from in-vehicle data in a variety of ways, among them the provision of travel planning services and auto repairs and service information they hope will bring drivers to dealers. They also expect to work with insurance companies by providing information to let insurers to base their rates on a driver's behaviour at the wheel.

While many automakers have signed up to use CarPlay and Android Auto, systems designed to make it easier and safer for drivers to use the apps and features on their smart phones while driving, some car companies also have designed their own systems.

  • Ford is installing a proprietary system, Sync 3, in its cars to work with and supplement CarPlay and Android Auto.

  • Audi wants to develop and license its own brand-specific apps while attracting third-party programmers to create and customise car-specific apps.

Mathias Halliger, a senior systems architect for connected vehicle technology at Audi, explained: "This enables a business model that belongs completely to the automaker."

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Still to be answered, however, are questions about how comfortable consumers will be with sharing their personal information from the vehicle; state and federal regulators could impose limits on data-gathering and sharing.

Meanwhile, policies on data access and sharing differ from company to company. Several automakers said they were sharing minimal vehicle information that directly affects the performance of third-party infotainment systems - for example:

  • GPS co-ordinates to enable navigation.
  • Information about whether the facia information screen is in day or night mode.
  • Notification of when a vehicles is in reverse gear to alert the rear video-camera display.

GM is integrating Apple's and Google's infotainment systems into its vehicles without "any outgoing data or shared revenue", a spokesperson said.

'MORE THAN WILLING TO SHARE'

VW says it is treating the tech companies more as strategic partners and is being more open in terms of data access - a stance different to that of sister brand Audi which makes such decisions on its own and has restricted access to vehicle data.

A VW spokesperson said Apple and Google had "asked for more data than we were willing to share" but admitted that the automaker was "providing access to data points needed to provide the best apps performance and user experience".

Thilo Koslowski, vice-president and automotive practice leader at consultant Gartner, said: "The car companies recognise that Apple and Google can glean a wealth of information from mobile devices that users bring into a car. As for Apple's and Google's interest in connecting with drivers, it's all about tying you in to their ecosystems."

Apple says it is collecting only limited data to enhance in-car services offered through CarPlay, such as GPS information from the vehicle to make Apple Maps as accurate as possible. A statement from Apple read: "As with all of our products, CarPlay is built from the ground up to protect your privacy using the same industry-leading safeguards already at work on iPhones.

"All the data is anonymised, not connected with other Apple services, and is not stored by Apple, so nobody can build a profile about the driver or his travels."

DRIVERS TO DECIDE

Google says its aim is to integrate data from the car with features on Android Auto "for an improved driving experience".

With Google's Android Auto, the driver is asked to agree to share user-generated data with Google and third-party app providers, a Google spokesperson said.

Vehicle owners who brought their mobile device with them could elect whether or not to connect those devices inside the car.


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