Wheels Of Gold: Who’s Making Money On Your Mileage
GM has just released its first semi-autonomous product to consumers, in the form of Cadillac’s Super Cruise feature. In a way, we might say this tech proves GM is a leader. But in another, more accurate way, it proves GM is mostly a leader in violating consumer privacy for profit... because Super Cruise is built on the backs of customers like you.
How so? Let us count the ways:
- GM was among the first to expand its mapping data by “switching on” the external cameras in its customers’ vehicles (ironically, the same camera views the customer is prohibited from accessing once the vehicle is in motion.) In short, if you drive a late-model GM vehicle equipped with cameras, there’s a chance you helped create the maps they’re selling back to you in the $2,500 Super Cruise option. But I’m sure their lawyers made this all very clear to you.
- Wait, how’d GM get that map data out of your car? Oh right, OnStar. The GM innovation rooted in peace of mind has quickly become a major profit center for the company, and matured into a two-way data delivery platform. While you probably know OnStar is how you get your doors unlocked and your hands-free calling and what not, you might not know GM has been using your OnStar subscription to collect your driving data on the regular. But again, I’m sure their lawyers made this all very clear.
- The CT6 sedan armed with Super Cruise offers external video cameras that not only allow the driver to capture footage, but also automatically start recording during significant “events”, such as a collision or setting off of the alarm. The latter happens whether you like it or not, and is an evolution of the black box telemetry data that manufacturers have been able to access in cars for years. But Super Cruise adds another layer of surveillance, and it’s a key component of the self-driving capability: while the likes of Tesla and Mercedes have been hindered by state regulations (and general common sense) commanding drivers to keep hands on the steering wheel, Cadillac provides you with the sweet release of hands-free driving by continuously scanning your face. If it looks like you’re not paying attention, you get scolded and must re-apply your meathooks. The lawyers made it very clear that this camera doesn’t record anything; they only do that with all the other cameras.
- Given all the aforementioned software antics, you might be inclined to throw up your hands and declare, “you know what? No. I don’t approve of this, and I’m going to mess around under the hood a bit to ensure they can’t track me.” But GM is a step ahead of you, friend: they’re trying to make software modifications illegal, under the pretense that it is not you, but they, who own your vehicle. You just license all the stuff. Good news, though: the lawyers have approved your use of an air freshener.
Now, even though GM is the perennial asshole of the industry and may actually just be the world’s largest lawfirm who happens to make cars on the side, it’s important to note they’re not the only ones using unwitting customers to enrich their autonomous driving data. The deal GM inked with camera/software supplier Mobileye is the same one Mobileye signed with Volkswagen, and Nissan, and BMW. Toyota’s in on the game as well.
Those are the manufacturers. Would you like to keep going?
Samsung recently acquired Harman, who, unbeknownst to you, owns pretty much every car radio/infotainment brand with the exception of Bose. That’s to help plug Samsung into the kind of customer data relationship GM has with OnStar.
You’ve probably seen Progressive’s Snapshot product, which plugs into your car’s OBDII port and ties to a mobile app, promising the potential for a good driver discount.
Well, that obviously collects data on your driving and phone usage as well. But there are plenty of other companies doing this, including Verizon, whose Hum product attempts to turn any car into an OnStar clone.
And then there’s Tesla.
Tesla’s Autopilot eats customer driving data for breakfast, much like the rest of the bunch here. However: there’s a major point of distinction I want you to keep in mind as you make your decisions, dear consumer… because GM and others are trying to make the decisions for you.
Everyone wants your driving data, and everyone wants to engage with your vehicle. It’s not just the manufacturers and insurers, who are realizing it’s their only viable profit stream in the near future; this is where mobile is going already, and we haven’t even begun the march of autonomous shared transit yet.
But — when you buy a Tesla, or when you go for a test ride in one of Google’s autonomous vehicles, or when you literally send video of your driving to Comma.ai, you know what you’re doing. You’re helping a company who has very specific goals for that data — not just supporting them financially, but actually helping them. You’re putting yourself on their team, aligning with their vision.
How many Cadillac buyers know they’re doing the same for GM? I’ll be generous and say it’s 1%. While some competitors ask you to participate — or at the very least, make it fairly obvious that you’re participating — GM and other manufacturers simply want to flip the surveillance switch on their immense and ignorant customer base, because that’s the advantage they have in bringing self-driving cars to market.
Wait: it’s worse than that. The Law Offices Of GM & GM are going so far as to lobby for legislation preventing anyone who doesn’t fit the “traditional vehicle manufacturer” mold (i.e., GM’s mold) from working on autonomous vehicles. Long story short: thwarting innovation + using unpaid labor = GM’s autonomy plan.
I’d like to think responsible folks like you and me would be willing to wake up one day, unsatisfied in the world we built for ourselves, and say, “I’ve got no one to blame.” But what we won’t abide is waking up in that world and realizing it was all orchestrated behind our backs, for the selfish gains of a select few. I’m not the privacy police — far from it, actually — but you deserve to know who you’re working for when you’re behind the wheel.