Will your next car Google you?

by on January 11, 2014 at 2:44 am in Law, Travel, Web/Tech | Permalink

Cecilia Kang and Michael Fletcher have a new article with a variety of interesting observations, here are some bits:

A tablet, running Google’s Android operating system, will pop out of the dashboard. The device can be passed around so passengers can find YouTube clips and order songs and audio books from the Google Play store for the car’s entertainment system.

Prefer Dunkin’ Donuts over Starbucks? Google may be able to decipher that by driving behavior and deliver the appropriate ads to an e-mail account or smartphone.

…The executives added that Google, not the automaker, would control any personal data generated by the car. And, they said, the information would be stored in servers, not the actual vehicles, to safeguard the data in case the car is stolen or sold.

…Much of the data that Web-connected cars generate may seem mundane — the route someone takes to work, where they are at a certain time, whether their car needs a tire alignment or more coolant — but they can be lucrative to companies in the business of closely targeted marketing.

“If you are a business that provides services to someone in that car, you have a captive audience for an hour a day,” Smith said. “Think about how much anybody would like to have a captive marketing audience for an hour a day. It is a gold mine.”

Much of the new discussion concerns new Audis, but of course such innovations may spread to other cars as well.  Ads emanating from the car radio are old news, so what other mechanisms of ad delivery will be found?  And will drivers be lured with free services (which?) for being willing to hear or view or smell such ads?  I miss the old days of the open window and the eight-track tape.

prior_approval January 11, 2014 at 3:25 am

‘Much of the new discussion concerns new Audis’ – well, for a non-EU market, even as the article notes in omission – ‘U.S. laws are vague about who can harness all that information.’

The EU is not vague, and the political debate about privacy is ongoing.

Ray Lopez January 11, 2014 at 3:26 am

TC says: “I miss the old days of the open window and the eight-track tape. ” and he is how old? 52. Older than I thought. So he learned to drive at 16, meaning 1978, so I guess this claim is plausible.

prior_approval January 11, 2014 at 4:43 am

Except that 8 tracks were a strange phenomenon, more like laser discs than something all that common. But the jokes remain, in part because they were so perfectly inferior, summing up a certain mood. Not to mention a certain demonstration of just what the following corporations were capable of summoning when first being exposed to global competition –

‘Stereo 8, commonly known as the eight-track cartridge, eight-track tape, or simply eight-track, is a magnetic tape sound recording technology. It was popular in the United States from the mid-1960s through to the early 1980s, but was relatively unknown in many European countries. Stereo 8 was created in 1964 by a consortium led by Bill Lear of Lear Jet Corporation, along with Ampex, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Motorola, and RCA Victor Records (RCA). It was a further development of the similar Stereo-Pak four-track cartridge created by Earl “Madman” Muntz. A later quadraphonic version of the format was announced by RCA in April 1970 and first known as Quad-8, then later changed to just Q8.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8-track_tape

As the following excerpt shows, they were the epitome of what American companies were offering during that period –

‘There are numerous reasons for the format’s decline.

Some of the inherent deficiencies of the format were:

1. High wow and flutter due to the constantly changing load presented by the sliding tape pack
2. Tendency to jam as the tape got dirty, the lubricant wore away, and the tape was exposed to heat
3. Flattening of the pinch roller, over time, when a cartridge was left plugged in, causing increased wow and flutter
4. Inability to attain and maintain head alignment due to the movable head design
5. Rewind is impossible
6. Program changes often occurred in the middle of songs

As time went on, these issues were compounded as later cartridges started using cheaper, lower quality materials, such as plastic pinch rollers. Another contributing factor was an effort by record companies to reduce the number of formats offered. In the late 1970s, when sales of eight-tracks slipped, they were quick to abandon the format.’

A perfect reminder of just how well American capitalism was able to innovate given the opportunity.

prior_approval January 11, 2014 at 4:44 am

‘during that era.’ should be actual ending.

Cliff January 11, 2014 at 11:21 am


Albigensian January 13, 2014 at 6:30 pm

8-tracks were well designed for the purpose of minimizing driver distraction- to make the thing play, one just jammed the tape into the slot and to make it stop, one pulled it back out. What could be simpler?

Much of 8-tracks’ poor reputation was due to poor implementation. For example, the moving heads produced a loud “clunk!” when the track-change solenoid activated, and invariably the heads got out of alignment, producing degraded sound and, eventually, crosstalk between the tracks. They could have used multi-gap tape heads, with electronic switching between them (but perhaps that would have cost more). And the quality of the tapes was often really, really poor.

Cassettes were designed for use in portable player/recorders, but 8-tracks’ days were numbered when someone figured out how to make an auto-play, reversing cassette player. This offered the same just-stick-it-in convenience in a smaller, longer-playing package and in a format that supported rewind and without moving tape heads. Although, again, the quality of tapes provided by the record companies was just as poor, insuring short tape life and frustration.

In any case, CDs were not designed for use in a car- if they had been, the disk would at least have come in a plastic carrier to protect it. And if record companies had anticipated CD-Rs, they would have encrypted them- thus making it a crime to rip or otherwise copy their content.

And, umm, if we’re completing a history of recorded music formats used in cars we’d really have to include Chrysler’s “HiWay HiFi”- which was a phonograph.

Someone from the other side January 11, 2014 at 4:48 am

What exactly would the car be able to track that your phone would not be in better capacity to do so? Non-issue, really.

Chris S January 11, 2014 at 10:32 am

Not only what can the car track that the phone can’t, but what can’t it do?

Phones are a great always-with-you device. Thinking of younger, non-paranoid-about-data drivers, perhaps the same cohort that does not live in or lust after cars as those of us born before 1990 do, why have a separate device? Why accept the break in continuity that provides?

For instance, you’re listening to a song on Spotify as you walk to the parking garage; why does it stop when you get into the car? Or what about shared cars – the Zipcar model. I might still want my smart device and programming in the shared car.

One way around this I suppose is the move to the cloud – none of your data or indeed software will be resident on whatever device; your phone or car will just be form factor and a bit of processing to drive the UI.

yo January 11, 2014 at 4:59 am

Yay! Free ad-financed Audis!

anon January 11, 2014 at 10:54 am

Maybe not for Audis, but we may see ad subsidization of economy cars.

Dan Weber January 11, 2014 at 2:19 pm

It’s a really bad idea, bad enough it should be legislated against on safety grounds.

Alan January 11, 2014 at 7:21 am

I don’t think the real reason has anything to do with safeguarding my data: “And, they said, the information would be stored in servers, not the actual vehicles, to safeguard the data in case the car is stolen or sold. – See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/#sthash.OyIHbZq6.dpuf

Rahul January 11, 2014 at 8:40 am

Shout out to the MR webmaster: Can you please get read of that pesky “feature” that automatically inserts this “See more at Marginal Revolution…” advertorial snippet?

It’s annoying to have to backspace it out every time I quote an interesting tidbit or email it to someone.

Careless January 11, 2014 at 10:33 pm


whatever January 12, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Completely agree. It is more annoying than useful to anybody.

Slocum January 11, 2014 at 8:32 am

I really can’t conceive of wanting this. We all have smart phones with internet access already — why would anyone want a tablet that’s tethered to the dashboard? And phones & tablets are replaced on a much faster cycle than cars. Why would you want to be stuck with outdated electronics in a 5-year-old car? (Of course, maybe that’s not a such a problem with Audis, since they’re generally leased and original owners don’t keep them more than 3 or 4 years, getting rid of them before the maintenance costs really start to bite).

celestus January 11, 2014 at 10:52 pm

“Prefer Dunkin’ Donuts over Starbucks? Google may be able to decipher that by driving behavior and deliver the appropriate ads to an e-mail account or smartphone.”

Why bother with ads? The car could just self-drive to a Dunkins drive through whenever its algorithm says you are hungry. American Dream achieved.

Ted Yan January 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm

So now you’ll be advertised too based on your driving? That’s kind of amazing.

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