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Ford knows you shop at Lidl!

Posted by Bob on Monday 13th January 2014

Jim Farley takes a wrong turnLast week saw the annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show), the famous technology and electronics showcase for major corporations, in Las Vegas, Nevada. A chance for companies to show off their forthcoming or prototyped technologies to industry professionals and other people in-the-know (but not the general public), many new widgets and gizmos are introduced here every year, including automotive technologies and gadgets. It also gives various members of companies an opportunity to speak about their products and participate in discussions with industry buyers and other business folk. This year however, it appears that one Ford exec let his mouth run wild, and said some stuff that he really shouldn't.

The exec in question was Jim Farley, the Global Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Ford. So as positions go, he's pretty high up there. Something else that must have been high, or otherwise addled, was Jim's brain, as it seems someone had obviously not fitted a proper verbal emissions filter to it.

Most, if not all of Ford's vehicles come with a GPS unit installed when bought new, and many others have units installed, as the driving populace moves ever forward towards having no sense of direction of their own. In order for these, and indeed any, GPS units to function, a flow of information needs to go to and from the vehicle. With all this information going through the company's servers, much is kept by Ford for numerous reasons; security, statistics, optimisation, and so forth. Now, when trying to describe this process and Ford's policy on user data, this is where Jim Farley really put his foot firmly in his cake hole. "We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you're doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing." Those words were followed by the echoing squelch of a few hundred attendees dropping their jaws.

Whilst this may have come as a shock, in many ways it should be obvious to GPS users. The information for their route and position has to come from somewhere, and with data policies throughout the world mainly being stuck on 'store', it's likely that somewhere there is a record of your daily driving routes. Do you make your weekly shopping trip to Lidl? Or stop off at a certain McDonalds on the way back from work? Maybe even you have a fancy woman on the other side of town? Then you can bet Ford (and ostensibly other vehicle manufacturers) know about it.

Thankfully, at the moment is appears that Ford is only using its tracking data "...to improve services...", with Farley stating that "We don't share that," when asked about opt-in data. There is however a piece of Ford technology known as "Crew Chief", that allows company cars to be tracked via GPS, so that the powers-that-be can track their salespeople. Apart from this fleet tracker, it can be scary to think what such information could be used for in the future. Shops and supermarkets could buy information about what vehicles drive past them, or park in their parking spaces. This could lead to mail shots about companies and services you may have only visited once or twice. You may even get an email from a shop you used to visit, but haven't been for a while, asking why you haven't been back. At the moment, it seems that where theres data, there is a chance to sell it.

Of course there are good uses for this information too. Tracking the movements of a criminal, or a suspect in a criminal case. Working out what roads get the most traffic, and what roads are underused. Looking at what roads deserve a resurfacing, and those that can wait.

Jim Farley has of course gone on to retract his statements at the CES, saying that he is "...the last person who wants to misportray this to our customers." It appears that Jim thinks his statement was hypothetical, but honestly I can't see how this can be so. There is no question that Ford knows everything that Jim mentioned about their customers. It's in their interest to.

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