Ecologic, Ford and surveillance
A few months ago Jim Farley, Ford representative, blurted in a panel at CES that:
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.
Comments about where not very positive, to say the least, and both Mr Farley and Ford’s PR manager retracted this statement immediately – underlining that gathered data would only be used after anonimisation, or only after explicit consent by the driver. In other words, “this is no surveillance”.
Of course, once the data reaches Ford’s servers the only thing keeping Ford from giving them away is their promise. Seems pretty thin to me – especially with the money insurance providers can throw at this (not to mention law enforcement).
Ford isn’t the only company why strives to “help” drivers by gathering data on them. A Polish startup, Ecologic (winners of the Warsaw Startup Fest), had this to say (emphasis mine):
Damian Szymański, Gazeta.pl: What is Ecologic’s idea and how can it help us all lower costs of using cars?
Emil Żak, Robert Bastrzyk: Today nobody keeps track of costs of using their cars. Turns out that annually it can add up to more than the value of the car itself. Tires, petrol, insurance, repairs, etc. It all costs. Our device analyses every action of the driver. It signalises what we have done wrong and suggests, what we can change to lower the costs of petrol, for example. Moreover, we have access to this data 24h.
Not at all. The question is how the driver drives their car. Ecologic is a mobile app, online portal and a device that you connect in your car. Thanks to that we can have all sorts of data, for example about combustion…
What kinds of data are collected? Ecologic’s website claims that the device is “equipped with the motion sensor, accelerometer, SIM card, cellular modem and GPS”, and that:
The system immediately begins recording operating data of the vehicle, the GPS position and driving techniques in real-time.
So the idea is to collect data like GPS position, acceleration and breaking, vehicle utilization, driving technique, and sending these off to Ecologic’s servers. Seems that it doesn’t differ wildly from what Ford has in stock, with an (apparently) nice addition of the driver being able to check on their data and stats. Sounds great!
However, a question arises: what happens with the data? Even if Ford’s “promise” not to share with anybody seems thin, Ecologic doesn’t even try to hide that the real money is in selling access to gathered data.
In the “For Who” (sic) section of their website we can find the real target group (emphasis mine):
Private users – keep an eye on the young driver in the family Small business – fast and easy management of vehicles Fleets – keep the fleet under control & save costs Leasing Companies – lower the accident rate and track miles Insurance – give discounts on no-claims & safe driving
Of course one very important group is missing from that list: I am sure law enforcement will be quick to understand the utility of requiring any and all cars install the device, and not having to deal with costly traffic enforcement cameras any more without losing the ability to issue speeding tickets. After all, would Ecologic deny access to data to law enforcement?
Ah, but the Ecologic cares about drivers’ impression of being surveilled:
Your driver after work can switch off live tracking to feel conftable without impression that he is “spied”. A button on the mobile app allows the driver to indicate that the current trip is personal and help you to track private km. (sic!)
So the driver can “switch off live tracking”, but the system will nonetheless help you (i.e. the employer) track “private km”? So these data also have to land in Ecologic’s servers, eh? Apart from the employer, who else will have access to this “private trip” data? Insurance companies? Law enforcement goes without saying, of course.
In the interview, Ecologic claims that:
It’s all about motivation and healthy competition. We need to change the way we think. Instead of a stick, we want to give people two carrots.
It’s a pity that for the drivers themselves this translates into three sticks – employer, insurance provider and law enforcement.