A top Ford executive made a startling admission about the amount of data the auto maker tracks from its customers at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show this week.
“We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it,” Ford Vice-President Jim Farley told a crowd in Las Vegas during the show. “We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing.”
The global marketing and sales division chief was trying to make a larger point about the amount of real-time data Ford has on drivers that could be used in the future to alleviate problems like traffic congestion.
“By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone,” Farley said according to a Business Insider report.
Of all mass-produced vehicles in 2013, about 96 percent had computers recording and transmitting the type of data Farley was talking about. Police have even begun using such data to investigate car accidents.
Last month Ford unveiled a self-driving car equipped with a LIDAR (light radar) mapping system and onboard cameras – location and visual technology that is likely to find its way into more and more future models.
Though his point shouldn’t come as a surprise, it also comes after half a year’s worth of revelations about the length and breadth of previously unknown National Security Agency surveillance programs, many of which have since been deemed in clear violation of privacy and civil rights laws by state and federal courts and legislatures.
Until those programs leaked thanks to former agency contractor Edward Snowden, the NSA consistently obtained secret warrants to access the private user data housed by internet and telephone service providers by falsifying or misrepresenting information.
Certain documents allege some of Silicon Valley’s largest companies gave the NSA direct access to their data stores, and when the signals intelligence agency didn’t have that, it hacked in with questionable legal justification and took what it wanted anyway.
After such recent federal privacy and surveillance concerns, it isn’t unimaginable that companies like Ford could be subpoenaed, solicited or hacked for the real-time user data of millions of drivers in much the same way.
“These cars are equipped with computers that collect massive amounts of data,” Khaliah Barnes of the Electronic Privacy Information Center told the New York Times last July.
“Without protections, it can lead to all kinds of abuse,” Barnes said.