In the latest sign that automakers are looking to cash in on the reams of data generated by today’s Internet-connected vehicles, Ford has hired an executive to oversee its efforts to collect, manage and act on the information it captures from its cars and trucks. The effort may lead to enhanced driver services, but Detroit’s software push is also heightening concerns that privacy and security will diminish with each new turn of the ignition.
Ford on Monday named Paul Ballew, a research expert who previously held positions at General Motors, Nationwide and Dun & Bradstreet, to the post of chief data and analytics officer. He is the first to hold the title at the 113-year-old automaker.
Ford, in a statement, said Ballew will lead a team of experts that will help the company “better understand consumer behavior and help speed development of the mobility, connectivity and autonomous driving innovations that will improve people’s lives.” That will include everything from pushing data to Ford’s Sync infotainment center to help drivers steer clear of traffic jams, to using so-called black boxes to assist in the re-creation of accident scenes.
“We are committed to making people’s lives better through innovations on mobility, connectivity, autonomous vehicles, performance and customer experience,” said Ford CEO Mark Fields in a statement. Ford recently moved the Sync platform from technologies made by Microsoft to BlackBerry’s QNX system. Sync had been criticized as poky and hard to use compared to rival technologies, such as General Motors’ OnStar and Chrysler’s Uconnect.
But while the connected car is ushering in a new era of convenience for drivers, some observers say it comes with a price -- privacy. “There’s another facet that comes with them being able to provide all these services,” said Julia Horwitz, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “What are they going to do with your data?”
Horwitz said most automakers allow consumers to opt out of programs through which their vehicle information might be shared with marketers or used for other purposes. Ford owners can even use a tool on syncmyride.com to adjust privacy settings. But she noted that laws are still evolving and that technology has outpaced many provisions of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994, which puts limits on information that can be shared by state motor vehicle departments and other entities that collect driver data.
Horwitz said legislators could use the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which contains a number of data-protection provisions for the health care industry, as a template. “Something like HIPAA is absolutely required.”
As cars become more like big mobile devices on wheels, they also become susceptible to the same security problems that have plagued smartphones and PCs – but with much higher stakes. In a test sponsored by Tesla, Chinese hackers successfully infiltrated a Tesla Model S, taking control of the door locks and other key systems.
“As you get more software in vehicles, you get more software issues,” said Thilo Koslowski, VP and automotive practice leader at research firm Gartner. “Security is going to have to be bulletproof.”
A Ford spokesman said Ballew would not be available for interviews until after he starts work in early January.