No. Just… NO.

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.

30 comments

  1. Like I keep telling everyone, we already have autonomous cars, it’s called a Bus.

    I completely do not get the whole rahrahrah for giving up control of your life for an “autonomous” car. ( I get it from the corporate/government view point, I don’t get it from a personal viewpoint) Talk about coming forward on your knees. Wayyyyyyyyyyyyy too many sheep in the world.

    very sorry about your wife.

    1. I can answer that question with two words:

      Daily Commute.

      When I had/have to do that it’s 40 to 120 minutes a day of wasted time. If I wind up back in a cube farm somewhere, I’d buy one of those autonomous vehicles just so I could do *something* else for that time. The cheapest, smallest one I could find.

      And it would sit there hiding in the garage the rest of the time.

  2. I drive old stuff, a ’37 Chevy hot rod pickup truck, a ’55 Chevy pickup truck and a ’91 Jeep Wrangler Renegade which was the last new vehicle I bought. To show my support for the election results by doing my part to boost the economy and because I’m getting long in the tooth and this will probably be my last new vehicle, I went down to the dealer after the election and initiated a build on a ’17 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe. The first time I logged on to my Onstar account I was amazed and conflicted. While I approved of the diagnostics (your tire air pressures are 39, 39, 39 and 38 psi, etc.) I was aghast at the “safe driver” tab: you traveled 78 miles last week, had three hard stops and 55 fast starts. The only thing it didn’t say was “If you don’t stop masturbating, you’re going to aggravate your carpal tunnel issues.”

    If there ever comes a S.H.T.F. time, I’m heading out in the ’37 Chevy truck.

    1. Larry, if you get an autonomous car, you’ll be able to masturbate to your heart’s content on your way to the supermarket. (“Masturbation: it’s not just for buses, anymore.”)

      Just remember that the GAV Mk VII comes with a surveillance camera that can’t be turned off…

    2. There was a story that made the rounds a few years back. A group of gentlemen who specialize in souping up cars had gotten their hands on a Cadillac coupe (or something similar). The point I’m staggering towards is that like your ’17 Caddy, it had OnStar.

      After doing God-only-knows-what to this car, they took it out for a test drive… and the acceleration profiles evidently made the OnStar software crap a brick, because OnStar called into the vehicle to make sure the owner hadn’t wrecked or something.

      Yeah, it’s funny, but then you start to think, and you get really, really nervous.

  3. As for the grocery “loyalty” cards–it’s gone far past that nowadays. They want access to your smart phone, installing apps on it, digital coupons, etc.

    1. Darrell,
      I asked around about that very topic, and you know why they’re doing that? Because customers asked for it. Nobody wants to schlep paper coupons around anymore.

  4. First Kim, SO sorry about your loss of Connie. I never got a chance to meet her in person, but I wish I had.

    Second, welcome back to blogging.

    Third, I come to this issue in a similar manner, in that I DO know quite a lot about the topic. In my case, it’s computers, having been programming them professionally and full-time for over 30 years (and in college before that, and a bit in High School before that).

    A couple years ago my doctor informed me that all of his patients had to sign up for a medical information system, for which his patients had to pay a “modest” fee of $120 a year. He assured me that it was “completely secure”. To which I replied by finding a new doctor, because I don’t feel the need to PAY to have my information out there. As far as being completely secure, well a few years ago rNas (makers of this little security dongles with the random numbers) got hacked, if a company that exists to provide information security can be hacked, anything can. As they used to say, there ain’t a horse that can’t be rode or a man that can’t be thro’d, there also ain’t a computer that can’t be hacked.

    On top of which, I do NOT want my car under computer control, at least not of anything affecting me and mine. I’ve had too many computers decide not to work at the worst possible time to risk it happening at 65 mph. Sure, my computer controlled engine might decide to stop working (same as the alternator-belt might decide to snap), but I don’t have to worry about it turning me in front of a truck because it didn’t recognize that the truck was there. Oh, and if the car is tracking what’s going on, suppose there’s a mini-van with Mommy and five kids in it that just ran a red light because Junior in the way-way-back seat is using all the bandwidth playing a game, and my car decides that my life and my wife’s, as two middle-aged (yes, I DO plan to live to 106) people (not to mention straight, white, and registered Republicans) are worth less than the car-load of kids and decides that we can just hit the oncoming truck and die instead of risking the chilluns.

    Yeah, I’m cynical.

    Come the day, Kim, let me know which barricade you’ll be manning. Me and my Garand will be there, along with my Mosin Nagant (which on your old site you proclaimed “a pretty one”!) for backup in case the 30’06 runs out.

    1. Mark, as much as I love Garands and Mosins, these are modern times: so forget that old gun nonsense. I just MAY have a spare AK somewhere in the closet for loan when the time comes.

      See? I can embrace change and modernize like the best of ’em.

      1. If he doesn’t, I’ll have at least one…. with mags and ammo. And the odds are good I’ll be there.

    2. I’ve been in the unmanned aviation business for over 20 years. These twits have no idea whatsoever of the reliability needed for an autonomous vehicle. Silicon Valley breeds megalomaniacs.

  5. Thank you. Loved the article. Love your site.

    And not incidentally, this is the reason I never use loyalty cards. Wouldn’t consider a self-driving car, either. Autonomy matters.

    1. Thankee, Holly, and if this is your first exposure, as it were, to my scribblings and rants, I have to ask you the basic question I ask of all New Readers: what’s your favorite gun, and why?

  6. The fully autonomous car will last as long as it takes for the first huge accident. The lawyers and liabilities will take care of it from there.

    All your points are valid Kim but consider: we are not helpless as individuals. Spy on me through my phone or computer? Put a piece of tape over the lens. Can’t trust the dreck in the media for the news? Welp – if ya know the agendas of the people writing that crap, you can read between the lines and still get the truth once you see how they go about subverting and perverting it.

    You are correct, information is a commodity that the power brokers MUST control… somehow. They are getting desperate too, what with the fall of the media and the hackers throwing out stuff like Pizzagate that may or may not be true. Without control of The Narrative and public opinion, deplorable stuff like Donald Trunp happens!!!!

    We are seeing history here, folks. How will our glorious elite re-establish their authority and keep us from thinking for ourselves?

    1. “The fully autonomous car will last as long as it takes for the first huge accident.”

      http://www.theverge.com/2016/6/30/12072408/tesla-autopilot-car-crash-death-autonomous-model-s

      May not be huge, but it’s the first one I can recall involving death related to catastrophic failure of the autonomous driving system. Given Elon’s propensity to find new ways to collect tax dollars, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the laws have already been constructed (or are at least in development) to protect autonomous vehicle producers from this scenario.

      1. Allow me to expand on that sentence: Given Elon’s propensity to find new ways to collect tax dollars and put them to work influencing public officials…

  7. One has to wonder, are there many people left, who have enough money and care enough about privacy to justify a major push toward developing AI systems (digital assistants, voice-activated appliances, and car autopilots) that can do what they need to do without throwing all this data up in the cloud.

    Or, whether this will not happen until after a major scandal involving Big Data occurs.

  8. Kim, Here in Dallas, an auto dealership holding company (80+ dealerships, all major brands) just rolled them out a cloud app that utilizes a cellular equipped dongle in front of the electronic diagnostic port. It sends more or less continuous data straight from the car’s black box back to the mothership; the official excuse for the cellular connection is so the number won’t change. You aren’t billed for that; the company eats it.

    You know who my employer is, and they’re the ones who set up this monster. I wasn’t on the project, but they briefed us on it when it went live.

    The official reason is better maintenance support. Not sure if you can opt out… or if anyone else’s diagnostic equipment can still connect to it. Probably they can; after all, you still have to get a vehicle inspection by the state / county.

    1. I’ve written software for automotive embedded controllers since 1990 (ABS, airbags, telematics, body controls, etc). Around the year 2000 while working on software for an airbag controller (let’s say the name of the customer was “Colonel Botors”) we made the suggestion of saving off the vehicle speed and other info in the crash recorder and giving them a means to pull that info out of the controller. At the time they freaked! They wanted nothing to do with it. Oh how “far” we’ve come in the last 17 years.
      BTW, having worked for a variety of automotive OEMs and tier ones and knowing how the automotive software sausage is made, there is no way I’ll be a driver of or a passenger in any “autonomous” vehicle.

  9. Bluetooth viruses are being passed from car to car these days.

    If I can’t secure something with a computer in it, I don’t want to own it. Maintaining older cars is cheaper in the long run, anyway.

    1. Back in the olden days, one would take one’s new car to the mechanic for a proper tune up and possibly a bit of hotrodding.
      In the future, we’re going to take the new car to the hacker to rid the OS of stupid nanny codes.

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