Mobile and the Connected Car



At this week’s DC Mobile Monday event, the potential of the connected car provided enthusiastic discussion.  As our cars get smarter, they promise not only seamless infotainment and geolocational tracking features but also the capacity to communicate with other connected cars and our mechanics, improving safety and saving drivers time and money. While these are considered luxury features today, the sentiment in the room was that most of these technologies would soon be commonplace in all vehicles, aided and augmented by our current smartphones and tablets.

Telcos seem to agree, increasingly identifying cars as lucrative growth opportunities. “[Cars are] basically smartphones on wheels,” AT&T’s Glenn Lurie explains, and indeed, many automakers see smartphones as an integral part of creating connected cars. One topic missing from the discussion, however, is how the synthesis of mobile technology and our vehicles impact individual privacy. We continue to balance the privacy challenges and data opportunities presented by smartphones, and we have only just begun to address the similar concerns presented by connected cars.

The consensus at the DC Mobile Monday event was that privacy was a secondary concern, taking a backseat to more practical hurdles like keeping drivers’ eyes on the road and legal liability issues. Indeed, panelists were quick (perhaps too quick) to suggest that privacy concerns were merely a generational problem, and that younger drivers simply do “not think deeply about privacy.”  Moreover, panelists were optimistic that most consumers would willingly trade their privacy once they understood the benefits connected cars can brings, such as lower insurance costs and a safer driving experience.

In the long term, the benefits of connected cars are real and drivers may eagerly trade their privacy in exchange, but these benefits need to be clearly communicated. That is a discussion that has yet to be had in full.