For generations, Ford worked closely with Firestone, which provided the tires installed on new Fords and developed them to work with specific Ford vehicles.
That relationship soured in the late ’90s when Ford and Firestone were publicly vilified over Ford Explorer SUVs sometimes rolling over while being driven on Firestone Wilderness A/T tires.
To this day, the debate rages over whether the rolling over was caused chiefly by subpar Firestone tires, under-inflated subpar Firestone tires, rollover-prone Ford Explorers, or reckless Explorer drivers.
It was probably all of these elements to one degree or another, acting in concert—the proverbial perfect storm.
In any event, Ford is now developing a new relationship with Google that may make you roll over.
CEO Jim Farley recently announced that Ford would be using Google tech already built into all of its new cars to “provide new revenue opportunities,” which translates as monetizing the data streamed by the vehicle.
This can take many forms and includes the obvious such as how and where the vehicle is driven. The data can be used to keep track of commercially-driven vehicles and commercial drivers (so much for being on your own that used to be one of the perks of being a commercial driver).
And of course, the same can be applied to privately owned vehicles as well—to keep track of how and where they are driven as well.
Insurance companies are very interested in the data. It presents a revenue opportunity to mulct drivers who never file claims or have them filed against them. Instead, these “good” drivers sometimes “speed” and commit various technical foul infractions, such as making a right on red or not coming to a complete stop at every stop sign, which routinely goes unpunished and, up till now, unnoticed.
With the vehicle keeping track of everything the driver does, it’s all on record. Including how far you drive, another potential revenue stream insurance companies and the government would very much like to gain insight.
As things stand, if you own an analog car, you can drive as often and as far as you like. This is as long as you don’t file a claim or have one filed against you. But if your mileage is tracked, you could pay by the mile, and that could be a very forceful revenue stream, indeed.
Incidental rivulets of data are also important—things such as your preferences in food, the places you stopped to shop or visit and so on. You provide this data by tapping the touchscreen and using the apps. Even if you don’t use the touchscreen and the apps, your car will keep track of your travels, including your stops.
This brings up interesting questions about who owns the vehicle. Not in the legal title sense (that’s you, the putative owner, who paid for the vehicle), but rather in the meaningful sense regarding who exercises control over what you do with it.
This appears not to be you—the putative owner—if Ford (and other car companies) embed technology in your purchased vehicle. They have legal title to the data with the ability to control it, even if you do not consent to this.
So, what you actually have as the putative owner is a sort of license to operate the vehicle under the terms and conditions specified by the vehicle’s functional owner, i.e., the car companies that control the data vehicle and, thereby, you.
But the real money and control will come from Googled electric cars.
Here is the scenario: your future electric vehicle will hold a subscription for charging—perhaps part of your monthly EV subscription if you don’t own the vehicle yourself. Automakers are already talking about these kinds of subscriptions. They want to get people used to the idea of never owning their vehicles and possibly anything else, either, and instead of paying perpetually to have use of them.
This kind of scenario could be used to limit your recharging, and thus, your driving. A Googled electric car could be turned off or on at the pleasure of its actual owner, whether that’s putatively you or “subscribed service” you.
“Connectivity is the biggest game-changer,” Farley said recently, and he’s right.
Things will never be the same. They are already not the same.
Every new car Ford sells has a connected modem installed, which means every new car Ford sells is already “connected.” Your new Ford car (and it’s not just Ford cars) already isn’t yours—it is the company’s functional property that you’re paying for the conditional opportunity to use it, per the end-user license agreement.
The technology isn’t intrinsically dangerous and can provide benefits. For example, technicians could identify and remotely diagnose problems with the vehicle and/or its systems. Able to get assistance with a problem remotely avoids the hassle of having to take the vehicle in for service.
The problem or the danger lies in how the tech is used and whether people will have the freedom to choose not to use it.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Ford or any other car company offering the tech if owners are free to opt-in on the tech, and it’s something they’re willing to pay for and over which they have control.
It gets sinister when no one can opt-out, and then we’re all Googled by our cars, whether we putatively own them or not.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.