Revenue from Data: Capitalism and Privacy and the Autonomous Automotive

This is a picture of the Waze app, a GPS navigation software used by many to navigate. By using the app users provide the app with more data

The rise of the smartphone created many new markets in terms of data gathering and analysis and provide novel uses for telephones. For example, the Global Positioning System (GPS) that comes pre-installed on many phones helps researchers track the mobility of people with Alzheimer’s Disease. MyFitnessPal allows you to track what you eat and how much you exercise on most mainstream phones, which could provide nutritionists and food companies with important data, if the user shares the data. Connected vehicle owners have the opportunity to make money by selling access to their data and their vehicles’ processing power.

The art of data mining is already well-known. Companies such as Facebook and Google collect vast amounts of data from various sources, analyze it, and sell access to the data. There is a saying in the technology industry: “If you are not paying for the product, you are the product.” Currently people usually mine vehicle data for purposes such as traffic analysis and developing self-driving technologies such as cruise control; later on marketers could use data from the vehicles to track how people decide to drive, seeing if they slow down around billboards, learn more about how they pick gas stations, etc. There is already a worldwide trend for car insurers to use car location data to set pricing. Right now programs such as Progressive Insurance’s Snapshot program are optional, but may become mandatory.

People could make a mint by selling access to the processing power in their vehicles’ computers. Vehicles have“electronic control units” (ECUs) inside them to handle functions such as transmission shifting and skid-control. The average car now has somewhere between 25 and 50 central processing units (CPUs) and the top of the line have more than 100. All this processing power is currently being used to run cars, but in the future it is possible that vehicles will have so much processing power that they will be able to “rent out” their unused data to other services, such as hospitals and animation studios. Connected Vehicles can also act as mobile data centers and thus capable of processing information remotely. In dangerous situations vehicular data centers could be more useful than stationary data centers, since they can be moved quickly.

While data mining and renting out access to a vehicle’s processing power can benefit owners and society alike, it raises issues regarding privacy and the resale of purchased data. People are already asking questions about how much data Facebook and other companies should have access to and what they can share. Some Twitter users unthinkingly post pictures of their debit cards, including their security codes, making them vulnerable to theft. Giving people access to your GPS could also make owners vulnerable to crime.

In the future contracts may be written that will allow the driver to own the vehicle, but the manufacturer owns the right to use the data collected and processed by the vehicle itself. There may be real and practical reasons to limiting how much processing power an owner may sell. A driver may overestimate how much processing power he or she can offer, robbing him or her of crucial processing power in dangerous driving situations.

Louis Renault on a car in 1903

What to make of all this? If a discussion about data mining and rented processors sounds strange in respect to connected vehicles, consider the telephone. For a long time a telephone was a device tethered to the wall. We could only imagine a cordless phone; a “videophone” was science fiction. Vehicles have come a long way. The future is an open road, and data will shift the connected vehicle forward.


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