What Android Auto Says About You…That You Don’t Want It To
For many, their first car is their first real taste of freedom. The ability to just hit the (mostly) open road and go wherever you’d like–as long as you have the gas–whenever you’d like, the first chance to get away from home, the ability to go to the next town over and try your luck at new social circles…there are so many reasons that, particularly in the United States, a motor vehicle is an embodiment of personal freedom. My (more or less) first car certainly was for me.
I had gotten a 1999 Ford Expedition (and only in recent years had it finally died on me). This SUV was a monster, but a very comfortable monster, which highlights the reasons that I went with the Expedition. First, I wanted to be able to off-road with it. Head out into the woods. Second, I wanted to be able to relax in it. Have it be kind of a “mobile base”, even sleep in it if necessary. And third…well, let’s put it bluntly: I wasn’t allowed/able to have sex in my parent’s house, so I wanted to have what I would eventually nickname an “MFP (Mobile Fucking Platform)”. My Ford Expedition excelled at being that, and much fun and lovemaking was had in that vehicle (even up to its last days of operation just a few years ago). The experiences I could share…wooo…if I wanted to. And I’m actually a really open guy, especially when it comes to matters of sex, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t want at the very least the option of privacy of what I’m doing when it comes to driving or even just being in my car. Frankly, if it was possible for my parents to know where I was, and perhaps even guess at what I was doing with my Expedition, my life could have been all kinds of Hell. And I certainly effectively have “broken the law” a time or two with my cars (nothing “serious”, but you know what I mean)…and really, who doesn’t break the speed limit, at least?
My point being, I’d hate it if my every move and every action with my vehicles were being tracked, or even quantified and compiled on some database somewhere, government-run or not.
Well, we have some clues that this very thing is happening, and it’s no longer conspiracy theory.
At the Dark Android Project, one of the things I’ve been pushing for is to have open-source versions of Android Auto–Alphabet/Google’s “Android in your car” initiative that is already in Honda and Hyundai vehicles–perhaps something like a “CyanogenMod Auto” or along those lines. Since I’ve been recommending this, I haven’t had anything remotely concrete as far as evidence that Alphabet/Google would use Android Auto to track what you do and collect information about you. But now–thanks to Porsche–I do.
In a recent article from Motor Trend, Porsche was talking about the 2017 Porsche 911, and why it doesn’t have Android Auto built-in. This was the statement as to why:
As part of the agreement an automaker would have to enter with Google, certain pieces of data must be collected and mailed back to Mountain View, California. Stuff like vehicle speed, throttle position, coolant and oil temp, engine revs—basically Google wants a complete OBD2 dump whenever someone activates Android Auto. Not kosher, says Porsche.
Alphabet/Google quickly responded to the claims by Porsche with this little nugget:
Steering this story straight – we take privacy very seriously and do not collect the data the Motor Trend article claims such as throttle position, oil temp and coolant temp. Users opt in to share information with Android Auto that improves their experience, so the system can be hands-free when in Drive, and provide more accurate navigation through the car’s GPS.
Alphabet/Google is effectively trying to–with a pun, by the way–call bullshit on Porsche’s claims. But Alphabet/Google’s response doesn’t really set my mind at ease, at all. For one, they’re not saying that they don’t collect the information, they’re just saying that it’s “opt-in”. Admittedly, Alphabet/Google has been very good in the past about making sure that things are “opt-in”, and are not activated by default (with various Google Account features, etc.). But things have slowly been changing, and seemingly innocuous phrasing of “opt-in” options has tricked a few people into sending all kinds of potentially very private information (like photos) to Google with people thinking they had already opted out (by say, deleting the new Google Photos app, but Google Settings was still sending Google the photos until you turned the option off there). Besides, the average person probably just wants to get their shiny new car rolling on the road, and they may have even had the dealer themselves get all of their Android Auto nonsense ready…so the average person probably doesn’t even realize what they’re giving Alphabet/Google (certainly, that responsibility falls on the individual to do their diligence, but I also feel Android Auto should be putting up huge warning signs and clear language of what is going on during setup, which it doesn’t do).
Or perhaps, in the near future, Android Auto will have “Parental Controls” much like other Android-powered devices do. Perhaps a bright, young 16 or 17 year old (like myself) gets a car either by their own purchasing or via their parents, and with these parental controls, that young person’s parents can see everywhere their child went, for how long they stopped somewhere, maybe even tell if the car was “bouncing around a lot” at some point with the air conditioning on…whatever…and then little Johnny comes home and will likely get his newfound freedom-of-a-car taken away from him. And, oh yes, Johnny isn’t going to be able to use that car at all until his parents say so, because in the future, Android Auto’s “Parental Controls” will make the car completely non-functional for little Johnny.
And besides, opt-in or not, what’s to stop Alphabet/Google from collecting all of that data anyways? Or what’s to stop them from sharing all of that data with other companies, or with “law enforcement” agencies and governments? What, you thought Google’s “Don’t be evil” slogan would come into play? I hate to break it to you (okay, I don’t really hate to break it to you), but ever since Google became Alphabet, Inc., their entire mission statement has changed. To quote directly from it:
Employees of Alphabet and its subsidiaries and controlled affiliates (“Alphabet”) should do the right thing – follow the law…
“Follow the law” is in the first line of the new mission statement! And if they get a request from a government agency for data…the company Code of Conduct says for employees to DO AS THEY ARE TOLD BY THE LAW. Of course they’ll hand over all of that data that Android Auto collects. Hell, do you ever think you’re going to squeak by another traffic violation or felony in court ever again? All the court has to do is request the data on the speed you were driving on such-and-such a date, Alphabet/Google happily hands it over to them, and you’re screwed. No more benefit of the doubt, and no more opportunity to really challenge an unjust system (which every single government is).
Oh, and forget your privacy.
Now let’s be clear about this: the auto industry has already been collecting this data for years (ever since–potentially–1996, but likely more when in-dash GPS systems became popular). Ford’s Global VP/Marketing that and Sales, Jim Farley, said something very interesting over a year ago that proves the point:
We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.
How comforting that he said they don’t supply that data to anyone! I’ll just take your word for it. On second thought, no, I won’t take your for it. You have so much legal immunity that there’s no reason for you not to give that information to the NSA.
So maybe Android Auto is just the icing on the cake. Maybe, if you own a more modern car, your privacy while traveling doesn’t exist, anyway. But why give that information to Google? Hell, when whatever Apple’s real plans are for cars in the future, why give that information to Apple? The more corporations that have your data, the greater you chances of that data being breached or used against you become. Maybe if Google and other corporations were actually anonymizing the data they collect, I’d feel a little better about it, but they don’t. You have an “Advertising ID” on you. You have an entire file, that is all centered around you. And they make bank off of it, and you get what? The ability to connect your phone more directly to your car? That’s a bullshit trade-off for what they do with your data.
None of this is “best practices” for any business, folks.
So fuck’em. Fuck Alphabet/Google. Fuck Apple. And fuck Android Auto.