Perhaps we took a look at the long-awaited Apple Car when the company unveiled the next generation of its CarPlay feature at its annual Global Developer Conference. The new CarPlay, which will be launched next year, will essentially turn your car’s dashboard into a giant iPhone.
If you like Apple products (and cars), this was probably an exciting announcement. But competition advocates and lawmakers who believe Big Tech already has too much power over too many aspects of American life feel differently.
“All the major technology companies have tried to maintain their dominance in these nascent industries,” Krista Brown, senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project, a competition advocacy organization, told Recode. It’s not just about cars, he said, it’s also about things like virtual reality and financial technology. “What you notice in all of them is that they contain massive amounts of data.”
Google and Apple have been making cars for almost a decade, from powering control panels and entertainment information systems to building autonomous and electric vehicles. As cars have basically become giant computers, it makes sense that technology companies that make smaller computers want (and can) take advantage of it. As an added bonus, it’s an opportunity for them to attract new customers to their digital ecosystems, making it much harder to compete for companies that don’t have those ecosystems and get a lot more data on where we’re going and what we’re doing. do. These data then give these companies an even greater competitive advantage.
“There is a flying effect, where the amount of data they have allows them to provide better information. That doesn’t mean we have to exist in a world where they become the sole providers of this information, ”Brown said.
Apple, which claims that CarPlay is available in more than 98 percent of U.S. cars, isn’t the only company trying to delve deeper into your dashboard. Amazon’s Alexa is an option for more and more cars, with some models offering Alexa Built-In, where the digital wizard comes pre-installed and ready to use (as long as you have an Amazon account). You can then ask Alexa to do most of the same things she will do for you at home, such as play music, give directions, tell you the weather, and ask Amazon for things.
Google is doing even more. First, there’s Android Auto, which, like CarPlay, requires you to plug in your device and then mirror it on your car’s touch screen. Next up is Android Automotive Operating System (AAOS), which is free and open source. Car manufacturers can use it to create their own information systems, basically AAOS is the equivalent of the Android mobile operating system. Finally, there are Google Automotive Services, which are Google-licensed applications that automakers can offer to their information systems, such as Maps, Play Store, and Assistant, the car equivalent to Google Play Services on Android mobile devices. .
AAOS adoption is booming: While less than 1 percent of cars sold today use Android Automotive, industry analyst Gartner predicts that 70 percent of cars sold in 2028 will. This does not mean that everyone will also have Google Automotive Services (currently, many manufacturers do not have them), or that consumers will be restricted to Google offers only if they do. This means that Google could soon own the operating system that powers most of the new car entertainment information systems.
“Car manufacturers have tried for several years to build an ecosystem of customer-oriented digital services around their vehicles, but for the most part they have failed in the type and breadth of these services, as well as the true convenience they offer. to customers “. said the recent Gartner report. “As technology and software become more and more decisive factors for this industry, technology companies see here an opportunity to make the most of their experience.”
Basically, if you’re buying a new car these days, most will support Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or Amazon Alexa, if not all three. Proponents of competition and some lawmakers see this as another way in which these massive businesses can attract more people to their ecosystems and make it harder for them to get out. This will give these companies a lot more data and make it much harder for new or smaller companies to compete. Recently, some pro-consumer groups have sounded the alarm.
In a letter to the antitrust hawks, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and antitrust law enforcement agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice last January , 28 consumer groups and antitrust activists warned that Big Tech’s “next target” was the auto industry. The signatories of the letters include Brown’s American Economic Freedoms Project, as well as Demand Progress, Public Citizen, and the Surveillance Technology Monitoring Project. A specific concern was consumer privacy, given the huge amounts of data cars they generate that Big Tech companies could collect and use.
“The implications for privacy and data security are serious,” the letter said. “Google is already taking advantage of our browser history. Imagine if they could also monetize our driving behavior. They know where we’re going, what we’re looking for, and now they’ll know how often we use our turn signals or exceed five miles limit “.
In April, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), along with 10 other Democratic Reps, wrote to the FTC and the DOJ with their concerns about Big Tech and the auto industry, seeing this as a opportunity to get ahead of a possible competition. problem before some companies dominate another market, as Google and Apple have done with smartphone operating systems.
“Big Tech is fast doing in cars what it already did with cell phones,” the letter said. “Urgent action is needed to protect workers, privacy and the competitive landscape.”
Technology companies, in turn, are giving the usual guarantees that consumer data will be protected and that consumer privacy options will be respected. They also often point out how much competition and choice there is in the automotive industry, both for consumers (who currently choose between the offers of connected cars from several different companies or do not use any of them) and for the car industry. car manufacturers looking for tech companies. to power their infotainment systems.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a reason why carmakers (and consumers) might be accepting Big Tech offers – they’re better. Car entertainment information systems are notoriously bad; Ford’s (which was powered by Microsoft) was so hated that it was the subject of a class action lawsuit.
“Information and navigation in cars is an area where carmakers and drivers have been actively looking for our investments and products to enhance the experience,” a Google spokesman told Recode. “Car manufacturers have chosen to work with us for over a decade because we provide them with options and flexibility, and we offer a variety of useful and safe experiences for drivers.”
Pedro Pacheco, an analyst at Gartner’s automotive industry, said that it was not a question of Big Tech taking over an area that belonged to the automotive industry, but of carmakers. they realize how well Big Tech digital ecosystems could work for them as their products integrate more and more technology. .
“Automakers never owned a digital ecosystem,” Pacheco said. “Automakers need to use the high-tech digital ecosystem to deliver more and better digital features to their customers.”
But competition advocates are not just concerned with Big Tech and infotainment systems. They also see these moves as the beginning of a possible future where Big Tech plays a much more important role in vehicles, as these vehicles rely more on sophisticated technology to operate. These companies are making big investments in more than just information systems and dashboards. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, owns the autonomous driving technology company Waymo. Amazon bought Zoox, an autonomous vehicle startup, and owns part of the electric car maker Rivian. And Microsoft, which has been operating in the vehicle space for decades, is making its own moves in autonomous vehicles with an investment in Cruise, a self-driving electric car delivery and travel service.
Apple seems to be following its smartphone playbook for its cars – owning and controlling its hardware, software, and services. It is rumored that the Apple Car, which has been under construction for years, is a standalone electric vehicle over which Apple, of course, would have a lot of control. It’s easy to see a world where third parties who want to make apps or services or anything for your Apple Car are subject to the terms and conditions of Apple (and any commission) to do so, as they are for most things. of your iPhone. See how Apple used its control over iPhones to give you exclusive access to the near field communications chip needed to power your car’s digital keys. This means that no one else can make a digital car key for an Apple device except Apple. Apple’s refusal to open its NFC chip for payment services has already led to antitrust charges by the European Union (Apple has said it does not allow third parties to access the chip for security reasons).
CarPlay may not be just an Apple Car preview. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Brown, of the American Economic Liberties Project, sees no reason to think that big tech companies won’t try to dominate this space in the same way that others do.
“Unless they miraculously decide to go it cheap and risk the low bandwidth they are only fooling themselves. “Just like Apple does with its App Store.”
Before the advent of the iPhone, it was hard to imagine a world where you would trust your phone when you drive your car. Fifteen years later, it’s hard to imagine using your car without a phone to give you directions, play music, make calls, and even unlock your door and have your driver’s license. In another 15 years, we may be living in a world full of autonomous, electric vehicles powered by the same companies that power our phones. They may work better than anything traditional car companies and services could have done on their own, but the price can also be much higher than we realize.