FORMER REP. TIM HUELSKAMP: Have Automakers Opened Your Car Door To Big Tech Surveillance?

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In Greek mythology, the Hydra was a nine-headed snake-like monster that would grow two heads every time one was severed. I am reminded of Hydra every time well-intentioned government officials attempt to limit the power of Big Tech. So often, when they try to reform or regulate it in one arena, two more issues quickly demand their attention.

A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that every director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Clinton through the Trump administrations has asked the Department of Transportation to encourage electric car manufacturers not to replace their AM radios with devices from Apple and Google. In a letter sent to the DOT, the former FEMA heads warned that AM radio is a critical information medium, especially during times of crisis, and that pulling AM from car dashes can cause significant harm to public safety.

Indeed. FEMA’s National Public Warning System, largely built around AM radio stations, is critical to national security and shouldn’t be compromised. However, not only will removing AM radios in cars restrict one’s ability to get news and information during an emergency, but it will also ensure the dominant giants of Silicon Valley gain even more control over our lives.

It is remarkable that although the Department of Justice recently sued Google for monopolizing digital advertising technologies and began accelerating its antitrust investigation into Apple just weeks ago, these conglomerate Hydras have already seemingly found a new way to increase their power and influence.

Apple and Google would like nothing more than for car manufacturers to rip out the AM radio from their dashes and replace them with Big Tech-operated “infotainment systems,” which through a touchscreen display, allow users to stream music, make phone calls, and utilize GPS navigation.

These companies’ business models hinge on data collection. Over 80 percent of Google’s revenue comes from advertising, as did nearly 25 percent of Apple’s most recent quarterly revenue. Their browsers, phones, watches, and operating systems, which constantly record our conversations and track our whereabouts and activity, already give these companies nearly complete data sets on the American people. Nevertheless, they are still unsatisfied and see slipping into the front seat of Americans’ cars as the next stop on their journey to the American Monopoly Hall of Fame.

Axios reported this last year when it noted that “cars are the next data-guzzling platform.” While Big Tech already has access to your health records, personal information, and browser history, replacing the AM radio with their infotainment systems could provide these tech giants with massive new data sets, including but not limited to where and when Americans travel, which businesses they support, and other private details of their lives.

Google has already admitted to tracking location data without permission, so the fear of these companies tracking Americans on the road is far from theoretical. And if you think Apple isn’t thinking of doing the same with its CarPlay system (if it’s not already), you’re kidding yourself. Like Google, which just paid a $392 million settlement to 40 states for allegedly violating privacy laws, Apple routinely faces lawsuits over its aggressive and ostensibly illegal data collection practices. Most recently, it got hit with a class action lawsuit for allegations it is continuing to collect data from iPhone users who did not give the company their consent.

Conservatives should be up in arms over some car companies forcibly opening their car doors to Big Tech. Not only would this further cement their already sturdy monopolistic positions, but it also increases the potential for more Big Tech political censorship and discrimination. The clear loser in this equation is the American consumer and our freedoms, who not only can expect greater data surveillance, but also, as the former heads of FEMA have noted, a new risk to public safety.

This is not a theoretical problem facing consumers. The move by automakers to digitize the car has already arrived. Major automakers like Ford, Tesla, BMW, and Volvo have already removed AM radios from some models. One automaker also recently filed for a patent on technology that could lock drivers out of their cars and remotely shut off radios, air conditioning and other in-car devices, so it’s easy to see how this could get out of hand quickly.

There has been growing bipartisan public and regulatory scrutiny of Big Tech’s power and influence in recent years. Governments worldwide have launched investigations into the industry’s practices, with many calling for greater antitrust regulation and oversight. The last thing we should do at this time is give these conglomerates the keys to our cars.

Here’s hoping that the Motor City is listening.

Tim Huelskamp, Ph.D., served as the U.S. Representative for Kansas’s First congressional district from 2011 to 2017. He also served in the Kansas State Senate as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Information Technology.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.