Today, Fight for the Future petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to urge the agency to stop Big Tech from monopolizing the auto industry. The four Big Tech giants—Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook—view the auto industry as a “final frontier” through which to expand their presence.
From car software to the emerging automatic vehicle (AV) and electric vehicle (EV) markets, Big Tech is working tirelessly to entrench its presence in the industry primarily because it sees drivers’ personal data as a goldmine for their surveillance capitalism business model.
Under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, the FTC possesses the broad legal authority to clamp down on the unfair and deceptive practices of Big Tech companies. As we note in the petition, Big Tech companies each have a “history of inadequately protecting personal consumer data and collecting and using consumer data without user consent.”
Here are just some of the reasons the FTC needs to step in and stop Big Tech from swallowing up the auto industry:
- Big Tech has already proven it cannot be trusted with user data.
As documented extensively in the petition, Google has accrued data from billions of users. Rather than treat sensitive data and privacy with the care that is warranted, Google has routinely violated Android users’ expressed wishes to turn off location tracking and has failed to respond transparently when breaches of user data have occurred. The company profits off of selling user data to third parties, including data collected through:
“…[U]sers’ names, phone numbers, payment information, email addresses, emails they write and receive, stored videos and photos, stored documents, and YouTube comments. It also gathers their location data, IP addresses, system activity, crash reports, date, time, and referrer URL of their requests, data about the interaction between the apps they frequently use, browsers, preferred electronic devices, app usage, carrier names, and operating systems.”
Amazon, which has entered the auto sector through its Zoox autonomous vehicle subsidiary and its acquisition of electric car maker Rivian, also profits off of sensitive user data. The e-commerce giant has proven time and time again that it fails to adequately protect users’ data, which the petition notes as including:
“[The] personal data on nearly 200 million people across the world who visit its website. Amazon accumulates its customers’ names, home addresses, email addresses, bank details, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, IP addresses, operating systems, and browser types, as well as information about how each of its users navigates its website.”
Apple continues to expand its presence in the auto industry through its CarPlay service and long-running plans for an Apple Car product. We note in the petition that Apple, which has been accused of recording users without their consent, has accumulated staggering amounts of consumer data:
“Apple collects personal data from over one billion currently active iPhone users and 100 million Mac users. Apple accumulates its users’ names, email addresses, shipping addresses, IP addresses, operating systems, locations, zip codes, languages, search queries, payment information, and how they use its numerous apps and devices. It stores the least amount of user activity data compared to the other platforms, but it still tracks user search terms, along with the time, frequency, and duration of user activity.”
- Google’s Waymo service is already proving how Big Tech’s auto expansion is a privacy nightmare
The Waymo (formerly the “Google Self-Driving Car Project”) self-driving service has already begun in limited operation. Not only can Waymo vehicles collect visual data of their occupants, they are also equipped with the ability to take external images as well:
“As the company expressly acknowledges, Waymo cameras are equipped with specifications allowing the cars “to see in both daylight and low-light conditions” and spot potential obstacles “even from hundreds of meters away”. Waymo vehicles’ ability to collect visual data is bolstered by the large number of cameras equipped to each vehicle, with Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica vehicles possessing 19 cameras and the company’s Jaguar I-PACE models possessing 29.”
When combined with Google’s ability to location-track Android users, the threat to privacy this poses is mind-boggling. This is especially alarming given that police departments have already begun using Waymo for surveillance purposes:
“For example, local law enforcement officials in Arizona have used surveillance video from self-driving, specifically Google’s former driving project and present Alphabet subsidiary Waymo, to solve crimes. Waymo has refused to publicly state how much and what types of personal data they have to legally turn over to law enforcement.”
In a post-Roe world, abortion patients are already put at risk by Google’s mass collection of location data, which are subject to geofence warrants that demand the GPS data of all phones in a particular area. It may sound like dystopian science fiction, but it is entirely conceivable that Waymo vehicles could function as tools of surveillance to target individuals traveling to receive abortion care.”
- Big Tech is leveraging its market dominance to coerce auto companies to incorporate their services
Big Tech companies are already leveraging their immense market power to pressure automakers into incorporating their services:
“Google, Amazon, and Apple have used their market power to coerce automobile companies into incorporating Google’s Maps and Android Auto, Amazon’s Alexa Voice Assistant, and Apple’s CarPlay into their vehicles’ infotainment systems.”
However, as we note in the petition, most of these activities began prior to the public finding out the full extent of Big Tech’s misuse of personal data:
“The companies began working with auto manufacturers to incorporate this data collection technology around the same time, if not before, the public discovered that they potentially exposed millions of their consumers’ sensitive private data to bad actors and illegally accumulated personal data from consumers without their consent… A reasonable consumer would undoubtedly find these misrepresentations and omissions by big tech companies misleading. It is reasonable to assume that a company will not lie to its consumers about how and what personal information it will gather, protect, and use from them.”
- The FTC has a responsibility to act
As documented in the petition, the FTC has long served as the de facto leading federal agency in areas concerning the well-being of consumers. President Joe Biden articulated his desire for the FTC to leverage its authority to clamp down on “unfair data collection and surveillance practices that may damage competition, consumer autonomy, and consumer privacy” in the Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy issued in July 2021.
The federal government must take a proactive approach to stop Big Tech from monopolizing the auto sector. Accordingly, we urge in the petition:
“To protect consumer privacy and market competition, the FTC should revive structural separations as a policy tool to prevent the concentration of private power and the control of vital industries in the hands of a few tech executives.”