BMW board member raises red flag on connected car privacy

BMW's board member for sales and marketing, Ian Robertson, raised a red flag over the concept of the connected car this week, as he revealed his company is fighting a tide of requests from technology and advertising companies for access to the data already being gathered by a host of on-board sensors.

Speaking to the Financial Times at the North American International Auto Show--previously named the Detroit Motor Show--Robertson revealed there is a dark side emerging to the idea of connected cars: namely, that clever marketers are seeking to use the information gathered by the cars to add a new element to their campaigns.

Robertson told the newspaper that BMW cars already collect a wide range of information that marketers believe could be valuable to them, including the vehicle's location, velocity, and--crucially--who is in the car at the time based on data taken from weight sensors in the seats.

Advertising and technology companies could use the information on the vehicle's location and its occupants to send highly targeted ads to the car, such as informing a driver with children on board of local fast food restaurants based on a calculation of how long the vehicle has been travelling for, Robertson explained.

To date, the German-headquartered car company has resisted the growing tide of requests to access those details, as it seeks to protect the privacy of its customers, Robertson told the FT. The car maker installs firewalls in its vehicles to prevent systems being hacked, he added.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas told the newspaper that the problem of privacy and data protection is something affecting all car manufacturers. The analyst noted the tide of requests for access to connected car data is being held back simply by the fact that no auto manufacturer wants to be the first to risk a customer backlash by releasing the information.

Robertson's alarm call is one of the first signs that the road travelled by the 'connected car' may not be as smooth as made out by the technology industry, which focuses on the benefits of extending smartphone ecosystems into vehicles along with safety technology such as proximity sensors.

Any stalling in the progress of connected cars could prove bad news for European operators just as they begin to truly embrace the concept of connected vehicles as part of their broader machine-to-machine (M2M) strategies.

In 2014, Vodafone beefed up its capabilities by acquiring Italian telematics company Cobra Automotive, while rivals Orange and Telefonica both forged direct connectivity deals with car maker Tesla.

Robertson's comments came as Telekom Austria announced a deal to install 'black box' style devices in Porsche cars that will offer drivers access to third party applications and information regarding the status of your car via iOS and Android smartphones.

In a company statement Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO of Telekom Austria Group, said the combination of the "ICT competence of Telekom Austria" with Porsche's "automotive know-how and sales force" are an ideal base to turn the concept of connected cars into reality.

For more:
- see this Financial Times article (sub. req.)
- see this Telekom Austria announcement (in Austrian)

Related Articles:
ABI Research: Embedded telematics in cars to exceed 50% penetration by 2020
Connected cars come of age, as operators step up deals with car makers
Ericsson, Volvo and POC prepare to demo connected bicycle technology at CES
European Parliament says eCall crash system won't track drivers
Deutsche Telekom forms connected car venture with China Mobile
Tesla secures French connection via Orange
Ericsson predicts industry casualties as cars get connected