News & Updates

Will Google control car data, will cars become dumb pipes?

By James MacTavish / August 3, 2015


It seems the payoff for connected cars is finally approaching. The IHS Automotive made some substantial predictions regarding these cars in 2013. They estimated over 150 million connected cars to be on global highways by 2020, which in turn could generate $14.5 billion in market revenue just from automotive data.

A variety of people including advertisers, insurers and even the government will want to get their hands on the invaluable data generated from these connected cars. This data has the potential to be used for anything from marketing to traffic monitoring. But who is the gatekeeper to this data? And will it be as easy to get as the smartphone data has been via apps?

With Google already involved with the connected car market with Google Android Auto and the Open Automotive Alliance, many are speculating they could be thinking of seizing this data for their own use. If what happened in mobile is any indication as to what happens with this new shift of power from car maker to platform provider, the advent of Apple and Google cold turn the car into the next dumb pipe. It may not be necessarily wise for car manufacturers to give up the wealth of data to a tech company.

According to a news release from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers, third parties such as Google may have a more difficult time accessing connected car data than they think. It was also said that car companies are required to receive permission for certain use of data by model year 2017 at the very latest. Car makers such as BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, Volvo, Mitsubishi and Mazda have agreed to standard industry wide principles for ensuring the drivers privacy and confidentiality of personal information.

Should tech companies acquire data, industry giants like Google have the potential to strengthen its In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) services to generate more ecosystems. They could even get more driver personal information. Car manufacturers could secede to Google, in the process losing all of that valuable information. Just as we saw in mobile, Google and Apple could eventually dominate the market.

On mobile and tablet devices, users seem happy to release copious amounts of personal data in order to reap the benefits of Google’s world including Gmail, Maps and YouTube. It remains unclear as to what consumers want, and if car owners will abide by these same norms just as willingly. Of course owners will want their Android- based phones to seamlessly work inside their vehicle, but does this necessarily mean Android will be the one to take the pole position?

Car makers have a very real opportunity to stem the tide. They can leverage app platforms and other IVI offerings unique to their brand and services with a walled garden approach just the way the carriers did with their app stores for many years. It’s reasonable to believe a walled garden highly curated approach to IVI is the only way to ensure a safe driving experience. The design and engineering of the car should be enhanced and not overcome by in-vehicle infotainment. It’s a bit unsettling to think there might be pop -up ads or YouTube on the dashboard of a connected car. It is also a bit unsettling to think Android could die away in its entirety because Android phones simply don’t work at all when inside cars.

Something in the middle of the road is therefore a happy median.