The “Revenue Opportunity” Behind the Wheel

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There is a saying that goes, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. But what if you’re paying for it – and you’re still the product?

Welcome to your next new car – previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas earlier this month – in which you’ll be surrounded by new technology designed to “monetize” everything from your musical preferences (it knows which stations you like) to where you like to go (it keeps track of where and when) and what you like to eat.

Perhaps even what you look at as you drive.

The cameras so many new cars come with already will soon be pointed at you. You’ll be surrounded sensors, too – in the seats, in the dash – anywhere they can be put where data about you can be mined.

That data used to construct a pastiche of your inclinations, which will then be sold to a company interested in trying to sell you something based on that knowledge of your inclinations.

And the insurance mafia is interested as well. Have you been buckling up? Accelerating – or braking – “aggressively”? It’s no longer just between the two of you – you and your car.

Your car is now a narc – one you get to pay to narc you out.

Some of you reading this may recall the 2002 Tom Cruise movie adaptation of sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick’s novel, Minority Report – which was written decades earlier (1956) and long before there was an Internet, email or a government-corporate cyborg intelligence in your dashboard.

In the movie, Cruise’s character is practically hag-ridden by holographic product peddlers, who personalize the peddling of their products to him (and everyone else) via data acquired much as it is already being acquired right now – via what you search online, the things you read and of course, the things you buy.

This information – formerly between you and whomever you bought something from – is collected and collated and then sold, without you being so much as sent a royalty check. Instead, you get pitched. In the mail. Via e-mail. Texts. Phone calls. A relentless juggernaut of Act Now – Before It’s Too Late!

Our cars used to be a refuge from this. Now – soon – in addition to Big Brother riding shotgun, you’ll have Big Shyster in the back seat, too.

GM was the first major car company to fit its new cars with in-car peddling capability, in addition to data-mining capability  – which GM cars have had since the ’90s, when the OnStar system debuted. It was represented as a kind of helpful helperson service – everything from roadside assistance to EMS could be summoned to the car’s exact location at the touch of the OnStar button. But it wasn’t necessary to touch the button for OnStar to be watching – and listening.

Around 2004 – some 15 years ago – I was test-driving a new Cadillac with OnStar. Unbeknownst to me, GM was watching. After hustling the car  through some corners at speeds above legal, a woman’s voice (of course) erupted out of the dash, asking whether I “needed assistance.” The G forces triggered alarums at OnStar.

A prequel of things to come.

The EyeSight Safety box… it sees all.

Things already here. Anticipatory and predictive things. One of the companies developing this tech, Eyeris, uses artificial intelligence in conjunction with the cameras and sensors – to calculate what you are likely to do based on what you’ve already done – and then take the appropriate steps to correct for “undesirable behavior.”

The Partie Line is, of course . . . saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety.

You are to be monitored and catalogued for your own good, in your own car. “Sensor technology that watches and analyzes drivers, passengers and objects in the car will mean enhanced safety,” says a Reuters story as well as (here you go)  “ . . . revenue opportunities in the future.”

The “emerging technology aims not only to cut back on distracted driving and other undesirable behavior,” the Reuters piece elaborates “but eventually (will) help automakers and ride-hailing companies make money from data generated inside the vehicle.”

And you won’t even get a coupon.

Note that no one seems to be asking for any of this.

It is one of the Weirdnesses of our age that products are foisted on buyers – as opposed to being developed and made available in response to buyer demand. And – new twist – this time it is not being pushed on us by the government but by corporations. Although, increasingly, the two are indistinguishable and use each other’s respective strengths to their mutual advantage.

Why, for example, offer air bags  – or health insurance – when you can force people to buy them? This is the new modus operandi. Eyeris, Israel’s Guardian Optical Technologies and Sweden’s SmartEye have – according to Reuters – already signed “undisclosed” deals with automakers to begin installing their tech dreck in some new cars as soon as next year.

As always, follow the money – when it comes to corporations. Just as one should always follow the power (the lust for it, the desire to exert control) when it comes to the government.   

And both operate on the same key principle: We are to have no say in the matter. We are like cattle given the “choice” of Chute A vs. Chute B – but never the option to leave the corral.

 . . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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42 COMMENTS

  1. Americans may see or hear about the closing stores, rising debt, Obamacare, food stamps, regulations, offshoring, homosexuality, endless US wars, increasing taxes, illegal immigrants, nanny state laws, security cameras, license plate readers, checkpoints, redlight cameras, speed cameras, FBI facial and voice recognition, curfews, gun bans, NSA wiretapping, the end to the right to silence, free speech bans, searches without warrants, private prisons, mandatory minimums, 3 strikes laws, DNA databases, CISPA, SOPA, NDAA, IMBRA, private prison quotas, no knock raids, take down notices, no fly lists, terror watch lists, Constitution free zones, stop and frisk, 3 strikes laws, kill switches, National Security Letters, kill lists, FBAR, FATCA, Operation Chokepoint, TSA groping, civil forfeiture, CIA torture, NDAA indefinite detention, secret FISA courts, FEMA camps, laws requiring passports for domestic travel, IRS laws denying passports for tax debts, gun and ammo stockpiles, laws outlawing protesting, police militarization, and Jade Helm, but they’re not connecting the dots that all these seemingly unrelated issues are part of the plot to destroy the USA.

    Americans are so brainwashed, divided, distracted, degraded, and demoralized now that they might even think these trends are necessary and proof that the US is improving.

    • Hi Rik,

      Sadly – I use that word, because I am not a technophobe per se – it is technology which is being used to destroy our privacy and thereby, our freedom.

      It is much harder to escape the net nowadays; to simply avoid various obnoxious laws by not opting in/ignoring/evading them. But technology makes this harder almost every day. One day, we’ll have no freedom of action left at all. Noncompliance will become a functional impossibility.

      • Well, considering the “WasteBook” phenomenon, I would have to agree with Brent, below. People can’t stand not knowing what anyone and everyone else’s business is, and at the same time wish to get that information anonymously. Frankly, this “information age” crap breeds a society of hypocrites and liars, who don’t even have the social skills to interact with one another face to face. “FacelessBook” is what is really should be called, in all honesty, which no one even has a clue what THAT is anymore!

    • With different attitudes the technology could offer us more privacy than ever before. The choice was made to go in the other direction because we live in a busy-body society. Is busybodyism human nature? I think it is. But it is part of human nature that we are to overcome to have a functional and advancing society. And to think how close we were in the USA to at least overcoming that. Then came the idea of the managed company town utopia.

  2. A few years back I was looking for a navigation display for a reason. I was tired of listening to directions from my better half who couldn’t read a road map. (she was an elementary educator). I would ask my younger co-workers that were tech savvy for advise on what I needed to look for in my new purchase. I’ll always remember the most knowledgeable one of them all telling me that, once I get my new nav guidance system there are still two things to never forget. I looked at him and he told me “never forget your roadmap/atlas and always use your God given common sense “. The nav systems aren’t that reliable.

  3. This tripe is shoved down our throats, then we learn to like it. And it’s our fault. Imagine if for only two years a certain percentage of car buyers–say, 15% of the total effective demand–simply didn’t buy the techno-crap offered while making it clear they wanted something simpler. The car makers would get the message loud and clear; a one-seventh drop in sales would be a fire bell in the night for them.

    But that won’t happen. People love their expensive, blinking, beeping gadgets. Jeez, even Jay Leno who’s old enough to know better just loves all that new stuff on cars. Being a zillionaire no doubt helps allay worries about the cost of maintenance of these four-wheeled space shuttles, but still.

    I guess we’ll all to sit with folded hands.

    • Hi Ross,

      I agree – and then some!

      Back when the TSA Submission Training began, I pleaded with people I knew – as well as people who read my stuff – to not fly if they didn’t have to (for work or a family emergency, etc.) in order to convey a message to the airlines. None of my friends or family have followed my example (with the exception of a trip to AZ after my dad died two years ago this November, I no longer travel by air).

      One of my friends, ironically enough, is an older Jewish lady who had family in Europe during the Late Unpleasantness over there. I question here about this – and her reply (paraphrasing) is that she “is going to live her life”…

      Until, of course, they take it away.

      Ours, too.

      • One would think that a Jew would know first hand the folly of giving in to all the human cattle-herding and identity tagging going on these days. Nope, in fact most that I know are the first to tell you that you should fall in line and cooperate with the authorities or you will just make things worse for everyone. They might as well just go around wearing t-shirts that say “Resisting authority is useless, If something bad happens, it’s someone else’s responsibility to save us, AGAIN!”

        • Hi gtc,

          Mission statement of JPFO: Founded by Jews in 1989, JPFO initially aimed at educating the Jewish community about the historical evils that Jews have suffered when they have been disarmed. JPFO has always welcomed people of all religious beliefs who share a common goal of opposing and reversing victim-disarmament policies while advancing liberty for all. It was the brainchild of Aaron Zelman (1946 – 2010), a leading national civil-rights activist.

          Cheers,
          Jeremy

          • Well thank God somebody besides the NRA is using their head for something other than a hat rack. (or target practice) I would be just as happy to see a full holster on every motorcycle truck gun rack. Beats the hell out of the claymore airbag mines everybody traded off for. Of course I’d be all for putting driver’s seats on the front bumper, as opposed to bilking a DUI offender for a breathalizer interlock, but that’s just me, lol!

  4. Have a cousin in tech, he was telling me that now smart TVs are actually costing manufacturers less than normal panels, because the data collection more than offsets the extra kit to make a panel smart…. most users dont even realise this and see a smart TV as a “feature”…. This happened first in phones, then TVs, pretty sure the automobile is next…. hence why people like Barra are completely taking GM the way of a tech company…. really think thats the only thing that can help them survive….

    • Most of these TVs are using the Android OS as the base operating system. While it doesn’t necessarily include hooks to Gooooooogul, the fact that it is “free as in beer” saves a lot of money for manufacturers and a boatload of time (money) for developers. Linux is free too, but comes with that nasty Gnu Public License (GPL), which is fairly benign, but also has a lot of legal departments flummoxed because there have been quite a few cases of manufacturers being sued for violation. And because Android includes a presentation layer and sandboxing, it is in theory more secure too.

      So for no added cost you can add “smart” features to your television. While you’re at it, why not go ahead and add Gooooooogul’s YouTube, and get the Netflix app loaded on too? After all, it don’t cost nothin’.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zf16YtSOaUQ

      • At least with a smart TV you can choose to not connect it to the internet. Use it to view local over-the-air broadcasts, and as a dumb monitor for a computer where you at least have a shot at maintaining control and limiting information sharing.

        I don’t know if it’s even possible to turn off the “connected” features of modern cars. I’ve read that with 1st-gen OnStar you could pull a fuse to disable it, but I doubt it’s that easy on newer vehicles. Maybe by disconnecting the shark-fin antenna? (Not that I really care. Even if I could afford it I’d never want to own a vehicle that’s designed to spy on the occupants.)

        • Depending on the version of on-star it is to pull the fuse, disconnect its brainbox, or disconnect the antenna. The most integrated versions of on-star have only disconnecting the antenna. It still functions but can no longer communicate with the mothership. Making just like the smart tv without a network connection.

          With onstar there may be an issue that even without an antenna it still occasionally makes a connection. Wiring even inside the box could me just enough if close enough to a tower. Further work would be required to prevent that.

      • Either android is based on linux or it goes back to a common ancestor, Unix. My ‘android’ phone I’ve added the appropriate ‘app’ to have terminal access and I can see it is a unix-like structure. No different from any other than any variant is from another.

        Anyhow as such it there is nothing inherent about spying on us about either, spying on us is a decision made in the implementation, in the variations that are made from the basic unix concept and the software which runs on that OS.

  5. Matt and ReadyK,

    I had some friends with a kid who was required to drive 50 hours with a non-relative. This was his penance to receive the privilege of operating an automobile.

    So on the weekends we would go for pizza about 50 miles away.

    I took him on the country roads and showed him how to navigate. We would go to the centers of towns usually by the courthouse and I would try to school him how street addresses worked.

    1200 E Main Street would be 12 blocks east of the courthouse or 300 S Maple would be 3 blocks south of Main Street…

    One Friday evening my friends decided to unload their kids and asked me if I would be willing to ride along. The aspiring driver wanted to google map the route and his dad said that would be fine.

    The first stop to drop off his siblings was uneventful. However he was going to spend the weekend out in the country, and with his google map in hand, he drove right to the end of the pavement and put the front tires in a corn field.

    After the farmer got a bigger scoop for the tractor I dropped the kid off at his friend’a house sans the google garbage.

    I will admit that the kid did follow the google directions perfectly.

  6. Driving home today, I heard one of the car-oriented radio shows discussing how the new Mercedes sedans can read the speed limit signs at the side of the road, notify the driver, and, most disturbing, automatically adjust the cruise control speed.

    • My ’18 300 indicates the correct speed limit in the Nav screen and turns red when you’re over. It does nothing else though. I don’t know how it does it, but it’s accurate to about 100ft. I assumed it knows where my car is and knows the speed limit on said roads?

      • update: it only shows the current speed limit when you have a destination plugged in. makes sense since it knows the route. not too sneaky (yet), haha.

        • Hi Chris,

          Many new cars have this “feature” – which (for now) is touted as being merely informational. An icon resembling a speed limit sign appears on the LCD display screen or dash display; it is white background with black letters, so long as you are driving at or below the legal limit. The moment (almost) you drive faster, it goes angry red.

          To “let you know” you are “speeding.”

          But, it also means someone else knows you are “speeding.” Or at least, easily could. The data is (or easily could be) transmitted/received by the car to… whomever/whatever has access to the car’s “streaming” capability. It might (for now) just be communication between the car and satellite (GPS) but there is no question that the manufacturer of the car (e.g., GM) has access to that data stream and could easily keep track of your speed (and many other things) in real time and so there is no reason, technologically speaking, that the insurance mafia and the government (the other mafia) could not dip their beaks in the data stream, too – and use it for purposes far from benign.

          • Here in the UK it already is being used, particularly in the event of an accident. Even more so, say you have a portable satnav, even that can be taken by our AGWs and used as evidence because a lot of them have data around where and how fast a guy has driven. I cant find details now, but do remember where a guy was done for speeding (so much so that he lost his license and I think was getting done criminally) – he went in and swore to god or whatever that he wasnt speeding and gave a lot of evidence from what I understand. Plod however got hold of his satnav, and extracted the data somehow and proved he WAS speeding and he got done…. I suspect it will eventually happen on that side of the pond….

          • The day I get a ticket or my insurance co. says my rates are going up because of this, is the day I unplug it all and take the consequences of hotwiring the darn thing. Or more likely have a hacker deal with it.
            We can all see it coming. Then I won’t be able to get it inspected, but here in jersey we get 4-5 years before first inspection is due.
            The possibilities of what they can do are endless.

            • Hi Chris,

              Agreed, same here. If it comes down to it, I’ll just cancel the damned insurance and “drive dirty.” I’ve been considering it for years, because I judge my risk of being the cause of an “accident” that harms another person or their property to be extremely low to nil (based on decades of “accident”-free driving). And I grow weary of having to waste sums of money on a service that does nothing for me – money I badly need for things that matter to me, like paying for a new crown or getting my cats up to date at the vet’s.

              If they catch me, so be it.

  7. Interesting Eric. So when a camera is pointing at me in a new car, I will have to test drive the thing to see when I cover it, if it still allows it to be driven. If not, I will not be buying. I’ve got about 30? years left to drive, so I’m hoping if I buy the last cars without this crap I can make it that far, haha….
    Maybe hackers will be good people to know!

    I pulled the onstar fuse on an older GM I own and the car still works. I should try it in my late model 300.

    • Friend of mine bougth his Wife a new Suburban oh, maybe eight years back. They live on the edge of the town/rural boundary. One afternoon she was headed out, and as she was headed over a minor pass on the state highway the car quit…. Husband had forgotten to refuel, and she had not checked. Oppps…. called him, who profusely apologised for his shortcoming. Decent day, she stepped outside the cig, called AAA who had no one availalbe for quite some time, that far outside of town. Called Husband, who was able to break free from his work schedule and fill up a five gallon bowser and head her way. He knew the area well, Pulled up behind her, pulled barely off the roadway on a narrow shoulder. She had stayed outside the car to relax and enjoy the scenery for her wait. WHen he went to open the drivers door to unlatch the fuel fill flap to slake the beast’s thirst, he realised the door was locked. OK fine…. Honey, I need the key… she felt for it… OH NOOOOOOoooooo He looked, sure enough, it was still in the ignition. NOW WHAT??? SO he called ONstar…. he ID’s and passed the security quiz, and as he was waiting for the gal to return to him on the cellphone, he heard the central lock system CLICK…….. the car was open.

      He was mighty glad for that feature just then, but as he pondered it on the way back to the office, he began to be troubled about what had just happened. HE figured that if some phone clerk at some office building he never really knew where could unlock his car, he figured that same person could start the engine… which his Wife can do with her keyfob from quite a ways away. Then it hit him.. that same clerk could ALSO turn the engine OFF… at will.. no permission or warning. Hmmmm…. good thing he keeps his nose clean. But still…..what if an operative within a rival company (he is in high tech commercial software) could hack HIS GM product as he was on his way to some bigwig corporate show and tell meeting? Or some other nefarious person decide my friend should suddenly go for a nice long swim in the Puget’s Sound one fine evening… with his truck?

      He is now not so sure this Onstar is really a great idea……

  8. Personal mobility is just as crucial to a free society as is the right to keep and bear arms.

    Dedicated groups (like the NRA et al,) provide organized resistance against the erosion of 2nd Amendment rights. But no similar organizations exist to protect driver’s rights.

    Eric, you’d be the perfect person to spearhead such a movement. Your Destiny is calling you!

  9. I remember being a kid in the 1980’s when the first airbags were being rolled out and how they would soon be soon be mandatory. As a kid I couldn’t wait – they’d make everyone safe I thought in my Anne Frank “the world is only going through a stage” naiveté.

    So many things that governments were planning seemed so beneficial. Even in college I remember studying the Maastricht Treaty that formed the EU – how wonderful I thought then. A European United States with ancient rivalries set aside for a common Republic while each maintained their own culture.

    When I read of the next things planned I shudder, knowing full well that they are not for our benefit, but control and far worse. My naiveté ended in my mid-twenties. I can understand people below that age being naive – thought the truth is I understood even as a teenager that there were uncomfortable realities that had to be dealt with. That we had to accept acts that on the surface were wrong, but they were in response to horrific realities that “our” government was in reality protecting us from.

    It is terrifying that men our age can still be so naive and even more terrifying how generations of children have been indoctrinated to accept what we know are outrages without any resistance.

  10. Back when I did cable advertising, my department fell under the “incremental revenue” section of the budget. When the basic channels began scrambling, and therefore were able to demand fees from the cable companies, they offered 2 minutes or more per hour of commercial time that could be used by the cable operator to sell to local businesses. At first the amount of money coming in didn’t matter, as long as expenses were covered and there was a little profit. Then at some point the company created a separate division for ad sales, and that line item became its own business. Staff was hired, offices were built, equipment upgraded. Now we had a budget number to hit and the head of ad sales reported directly to the CEO. It went from something that paid for itself and helped cover some of the programming costs to a big driver of revenue growth. Same thing will happen with this technology. At first it will be a little extra line item on the budget, along with service contracts and extended warranties. Then when the CEO is desperate to move the stock needle someone will convince him (her? it?) to ramp up the project.

    A few years ago I did a rough outline for a short story about a near-future world where businesses would pay GPS companies to route cars past their businesses. It seemed fairly harmless until businesses began relocating because the GPS companies started providing traffic stats, being influenced by the sponsored routing, which led to more sponsored routing and eventually a permanent traffic jam. Meanwhile a small group of people began keeping their own maps, at first as a hobby, but then as a good way to get around town since there were major roads with no traffic at all just a block away from the gridlock. Turns out they became quite valuable to their employers and others because they always arrived on time. Wasn’t really sure what to do with it since the climax always becomes pretty cliche about a disaster and the outsiders saving the day.

    • I was recently surprised to find that they still sell Rand McNally Road Atlas. I loved these as a kid and still do. I find the google maps apps very useful when I need it. But I try to learn my way around by studying maps before and after I drive in a new location. My wife drives (pun intended) me insane by turning on the phone when I know damned well were I am going.

      • Exactly. Navigation aids are a tool, nothing more. You should still have a pretty good idea of where you are going before you leave. I often figure out routing on my PC before I leave then send the directions to my phone because many times roads might be seasonal and just taken off the routing engine even though they’re big timesavers. Or the two lane road with lower than freeway speed limit is the better way but the algorithm is set to prefer multi-lane freeways over everything else, unless there’s a toll or something.

      • I’m surprised that they haven’t just stopped selling it myself. Their sales have to be way down. Prior to a road trip, I always consult a paper map. The garmin that sits on my dash just records the average speed and occasionally navigates me through the urban jungle. Finding things in todays sprawly world is difficult as there are no laws that require that CVS pharmacy actually put their numerical address on the front of the store, for instance. In addition, gone is the world where you could navigate by saying look for the gas station on the left about a mile from the discount store. There are 100’s of gas stations, shopping opportunities and chain dining restaurants in between. No wonder people want to tune out and watch the blue screen

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