The deeper data divide exposed by the dust up between Elon Musk and The New York Times
2013 started off so well for the marriage between car and technology. It seemed like every car manufacturer at CES was rolling out a developer program. In car Facebook for all! Calendar sync on the dash! Spotify finally putting terrestrial AM/FM radio out of its focus-group programmed misery!
And then, whammo! Elon Musk and The New York Times go at it like two NHL goons over a less than stellar review of the Tesla S. The public brouhaha not only exposed the allegedly seedy underbelly of the automotive review media, but also the power of data coming out of today’s new, computer-led automobiles. It also flipped the power model in the traditional consumer-company relationship.
Ignore, for a moment, the fact that the Musk-Times rumble in the asphalt focused on a $100,000 electric car and a reviewer who buys ink by the barrel. Musk’s response started lots of conversations about just who your car’s data belongs to. And, more importantly, it put a bright as a Russian meteor spotlight on the emergence of data as the primary driver in automotive tech…and the lopsided access to it.
And, lest we forget, we’re really today only talking about new cars. Tesla’s at the absolute bleeding edge of automotive tech. What about yesterday’s cars and trucks? The ones you and I drive back and forth to work or use to shuttle the kids around town. Don’t they deserve some tech, too?
There’s more “lost” data held up in older model vehicles than all of the new vehicles for the next several years, combined. But it’s locked down, inaccessible. Elon Musk used his access to the Tesla data to argue about a simple battery charge with a reviewer. My wife just wants to know if the kids left a light on so she can avoid a dead battery on a cold morning. I suspect most normal drivers would be happy starting there.
Imagine if you had Musk’s power with the car in your driveway, now. Imagine being able to:
get a message from your car about its battery status, oil life, gas, etc…
know what that check engine light really means (something giving drivers more access to data could’ve saved BMW from a 750,000 car recall this past week)
have your car (or a service connected to it) look for the best deals near where you are or where you normally go
Imagine enabling a relationship between your car and your mechanic in the same way your kids have a relationship with their pediatrician.
Once your car is talking to you (and the cloud) these represent the tip of what that machine can do for you beside just moving the family around. Luckily, a ton of work is underway to let you get at that data and connect it to your life. Automakers are making huge strides, but there are also solutions coming to bear for all the cars on the road, now.
Startups like Livio are helping redefine the entertainment experience unique to the vehicle.
A number of hardware startups, like Mojio, should be delivering connected car devices with new capabilities by late 2013.
Academic and broad framework initiatives are starting to emerge, like the “Cloudcar” offshoot of MIT’s RFID Lab.
In the same way Twilio made VOIP & telco accessible for developers and channel partners, Carvoyant is doing the same with connected cars.
Beyond just automotive, your car can start interacting with the “Internet of Everything” through platforms like Kynetx’s SquareTag or Mobiplug’s connected home.
Getting the data is one thing, getting it to you, the driver, without compromising your privacy is another. The landscape around personal data had changed but has automotive caught up with that? What your car does and where it goes is pretty personal. Musk obviously took this personally and started throwing some of that data back in the New York Times’ face. Imagine if you could use your car’s data — not for slamming the local paper — but to develop a better relationship with your local mechanic. How does that superhero line go, use your power for good?
Since this started on Valentines Day, it’s good to remember that a controlling relationship is not a loving relationship. Harvard’s Berkman Center and the work of Doc Searls on “VRM” or Vendor Relationship Management describes this shift toward “good” nicely in The Intention Economy. Industry groups like the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium are helping define the rules of a “loving, respectful” relationship between your data and the companies you engage with. Being able to grab the data and engage meaningfully works for one side of a relationship. Putting that data and the engagement in a driver’s control, now it truly becomes a conversational relationship, not a confrontational relationship.
While Musk and the NYTs skirmish is over whether a reporter manipulated a review (or whether the Tesla S is, in fact, consumer-worthy), the larger war is being fought to unleash locked and lost data that already exists in your floorboards.