Via Insty, I discovered this little beast lurking in the bushes. The piece is entitled, “The race for autonomous cars is over. Silicon Valley lost” and is about how Silicon Valley won’t be able to challenge Detroit / Wolfsburg / Stuttgart / Tokyo in the manufacture of autonomous cars. Don’t care about any of that. No, the turd in the punchbowl actually comes towards the end of the article:
There is another area where Silicon Valley could play a dominant role and it’s all about accessing car-based data.
One billion people get in and out of a car every single day. They go to work, they go home, they shop, they play, they do a billion different things. Knowing where they’re going and what they’re doing can be very valuable. That data can be aggregated, sorted, and packaged. And then it can be sold to anyone.
Unlike automotive manufacturing, Big Data analytics driven by Artificial Intelligence does not require large capital investments in factories and equipment. That translates into meaty profit margins, reportedly as high as 90%.
There are basically two sets of data. One set is generated by the car, such as how all the parts and components are performing and how well the car is running. That allows automakers to mine the data for a variety of uses, such as trend analysis to quickly identify warranty issues or learn how to set more effective engineering specifications.
The other set of data is generated by the people in the car; a massive amount of information flowing in and out about where they’re going and what they’re doing. Last year in the U.S. market alone Chevrolet collected 4,220 terabytes of data from customer’s cars. McKinsey forecasts that this could grow into a $450 to 750 billion market by 2030. Retailers, advertisers, marketers, product planners, financial analysts, government agencies, and so many others will eagerly pay to get access to that information. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving. You can sell the same data again, again and again to a variety of different customers.
I have no absolutely problem with the first data set; if it’s to do with improving the car and its manufacturer’s business, I’m all for it.
I have an enormous problem with the second data set. Here’s why.
As Longtime Readers already know, I used to work in the supermarket loyalty program business; you know, those annoying little cards you have to use to get discounts when you check out of the big supermarkets. (Basically, the supermarket is paying you for your shopping data, which they mostly use to improve things like stock re-ordering, shelf management and pricing strategy. That’s the equivalent of Data Set #1, above.) Let me be perfectly frank about this: I don’t know a great deal about a lot of things, but I know absolutely everything about customer data collection and -marketing. Over a period of five years, I set up data collection methodology and designed databases, reporting systems and marketing programs for a number of supermarket chains all over the United States. Trust me, I know whereof I speak on this topic.
Which is why I look on this Data Set #2 from the automotive industry with alarm and absolute hostility. One of the rules I set up right at the beginning of any loyalty program was that the data didn’t belong to the supermarket chain; it belonged to the customer. Once aggregated, of course, the data became ours — but individual transaction data was absolutely untouchable. We could not release any individual’s data to anyone without that customer’s explicit and specific approval — several times, I refused “requests” (demands) from divorce attorneys and once, yes, from a government agency, to have access to individuals’ shopping data.
Now compare and contrast that policy, if you will, with this breezy attitude towards data sharing:
Retailers, advertisers, marketers, product planners, financial analysts, government agencies, and so many others will eagerly pay to get access to that information. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving. You can sell the same data again, again and again to a variety of different customers.
I have often cautioned people about this trend towards autonomous cars. Yes, it means that you don’t have to worry your pretty / pointy little head about that messy driving business while you grapple with WOW Level 13 — but what you’re doing, in essence, is giving up control of the car to someone else. (And you can dress it up with all the IT gobbledygook about “algorithms”, “AI” and “predictive planning” you want; I’ll still tell you to blow it out your ass, because at the end of the day, someone not you is going to control your actions.)
Now this. Note that in the excerpt above, the lovely little term “government agencies” is inserted right next to “and so many others” like it’s not just another fucking tool whereby the goddamn government can observe and yes, later control your actions.
One of my heroes is a man named John Cowperthwaite, who was the governor-general of Hong Kong during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and who was responsible for the greatest improvement of a country’s living conditions in history. Here was Cowperthwaite’s take on government data collection (which he expressly forbade, by the way), as told to Milton Friedman:
“I remember asking [Cowperthwaite] about the paucity of statistics. He answered,’If I let them compute those statistics, they’ll want to use them for planning.'”
If it were just planning, I might be okay with it. But what Cowperthwaite suspected, and what I know for a fact, is that governmental “planning” inevitably leads to government control. Information is everything, and we now live in the Information Age. Sometimes I wish we didn’t, because the vast mass of people just don’t care or are completely ignorant of this danger.
Here’s my last thought (for now) on this topic. The automobile was for decades a symbol of an individual’s independence. In his car, a man could drive wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, for whatever reason he wanted, and for as long as he wanted — all without anyone but himself being any the wiser. Now, under the guise of “autonomy”, this freedom is going to be taken away from us. (At this point, George Orwell is laughing his ass off. “Freedom is Slavery”, remember?)
I once said that if I could choose the way I die, it would either be in my wife’s arms or on the barricades. Well, that first option has been taken from me, which means that if I die, it will be in a pitched gun battle with government agents who are trying to take away my old car and forcing me to use Government Autonomous Vehicle Mk. VII — and if you think I’m joking, I’m not. Fuck this bullshit.