Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Apple and Google come for your car

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We may have gotten a taste of the highly anticipated, highly anticipated Apple Car when the company revealed the next generation of its CarPlay feature at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. The new CarPlay, due out next year, will essentially turn your car’s dashboard into a giant iPhone.

If you’re into Apple products (and cars), this was probably an exciting announcement. But antitrust lawyers and lawmakers who believe that Big Tech already has too much power over too many aspects of American life think otherwise.

“All the major tech companies have tried to maintain their dominance in these emerging industries,” Krista Brown, senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project, an antitrust organization, told Recode. It’s not just cars, she said, but things like virtual reality and financial technology. “What you notice is that they contain enormous amounts of data.”

Google and Apple have been working on cars for nearly a decade, from powering dashboards and infotainment systems to building autonomous and electric vehicles. Since cars have essentially become giant computers, it’s obvious that the technology companies that make smaller computers want (and can) take advantage of them. As an added bonus, it’s an opportunity for them to attract new customers to their digital ecosystems — which then makes it much harder for companies that don’t have those ecosystems to compete — and get that much more data about where we’re going. and what we do. to do. That data gives those companies even more competitive advantage.

“There’s a flywheel effect where the amount of data they have allows them to provide better information. That doesn’t mean we should exist in a world where they then become the sole providers of that information,” Brown said.

Apple, which claims that CarPlay is available in more than 98 percent of cars in the United States, isn’t the only company trying to get deeper hooks into your dashboard. Amazon’s Alexa is an option for more and more cars, with some models offering Alexa Built-In, with the digital assistant pre-installed and ready to use (as long as you have an Amazon account). Then you can ask Alexa to do most of the same things it will do for you in your home, like play music, give you directions, tell you the weather, and order things from Amazon.

Google does even more. First, there’s Android Auto, which, like CarPlay, requires you to plug in your device and then mirror it to the in-car touchscreen. Then there is Android Automotive Operating System (AAOS), which is free and open source. Automakers can use it to build their own infotainment systems — in fact, AAOS is the automotive equivalent of Android’s mobile operating system. Finally, there’s Google Automotive Services, which are Google-licensed apps that automakers can offer in their infotainment systems, including Maps, Play Store, and Assistant — the automotive equivalent of Google Play Services on Android mobile devices.

Adoption of AAOS is booming: While less than 1 percent of cars sold today use Android Automotive, industry analyst Gartner predicts 70 percent of cars sold by 2028 will. That doesn’t mean they’ll all have Google Automotive Services (currently several manufacturers don’t), nor that consumers will be limited to Google’s offerings if they do. It does mean that Google may soon take ownership of the operating system that powers most infotainment systems in new cars.

“Carmakers have spent years trying to build an ecosystem of customer-centric digital services around their vehicles, but they have mostly failed in the type and scope of those services, as well as in the real convenience they deliver to customers,” a statement read. recent Gartner report said. “As technology and software will increasingly become the deciding factors for this industry, technology companies see an opportunity here to further leverage their expertise.”

Basically, if you’re buying a new car these days, most offer support for Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or Amazon Alexa — if not all three. Antitrust proponents and some lawmakers see this as another way these massive corporations can draw more people into their ecosystems and make it harder for them to leave. That gives those companies a lot more data and makes it much harder for new or smaller companies to compete. Recently, some pro-consumer groups have sounded the alarm.

In a letter against antitrust hawks Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and antitrust enforcement agencies the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice last January warned 28 consumer and antitrust activists that Big Tech’s “next target” was the auto industry. Signatories of letters include Brown’s American Economic Liberties Project. , Demand Progress, Public Citizen and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project A specific concern was consumer privacy, given the vast amounts of data generated by cars that big tech companies could collect and use.

“The implications for data privacy and security are serious,” the letter said. “Google is already taking advantage of our browsing history. Imagine if they could also make money from our behavior behind the wheel. They know where we are going, what we are looking for, and now they know how often we use our turn signals or go five miles over the limit.”

In April, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), along with 10 other Democratic representatives, wrote to the FTC and the DOJ with their concerns about Big Tech and the auto industry, seeing this as an opportunity to get ahead of a potential competition problem before a few companies dominate another market – as Google and Apple have done with smartphone operating systems.

“Big Tech is quickly doing to cars what it has already done to mobile phones,” the letter said. “Urgent action is needed to protect employees, privacy and the competitive landscape.”

Technology companies, in turn, provide the usual guarantees that consumer data is protected and that consumer privacy choices are respected. They also often point out that there is a lot of competition and choice in the automotive industry, both for consumers (who for the time being can usually choose from various companies’ connected car offerings or don’t use them at all) and car makers seeking to technology companies to power their infotainment systems.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a reason automakers (and consumers) embrace Big Tech’s offerings: They’re better. Car infotainment systems are notoriously bad; Ford’s (which was powered by Microsoft) was so hated that it was the… subject of a class action lawsuit

“In-car infotainment and navigation is an area where automakers and drivers have actively sought our investments and products to enhance the experience,” a Google spokesperson told Recode. “Automotive manufacturers have chosen to work with us for more than a decade because we offer them choice and flexibility and give drivers a variety of useful and safe experiences.”

Pedro Pacheco, an auto industry analyst at Gartner, said this wasn’t about Big Tech taking over an area that belonged to the auto industry, but that automakers were realizing how well Big Tech’s digital ecosystems could work for them. , as their products integrate more and more technology. †

“Car makers have never had a digital ecosystem,” says Pacheco. “Automakers need to leverage the big tech digital ecosystem to provide their customers with more and better digital features.”

But antitrust attorneys aren’t just concerned about Big Tech and infotainment systems. They also see these movements as the beginning of a possible future in which Big Tech plays a much larger role in vehicles as those vehicles become more dependent on advanced technology to drive. These companies are investing heavily in more than just infotainment systems and dashboards. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, owns the self-driving technology company Waymo. Amazon bought Zoox, an autonomous vehicle startup, and owns a portion from electric car manufacturer Rivian. And Microsoft, which has been in the vehicle space for decades, is taking its own steps in self-driving vehicles with an investment in Cruise, a self-driving electric car ride and delivery service.

Apple seems to be following its smartphone playbook for its cars: owning and managing the hardware, software and services. The Apple Car, which has been years in the making, is rumored to be an autonomous, electric vehicle that Apple would obviously have a lot of control over. It’s easy to see a world where third parties who want to make apps or services or really do something for your Apple Car are subject to Apple’s terms and conditions (and any commissions) to do so, just as they are for most things on your iPhone. Just look at how Apple used its control over iPhones to give it exclusive access to the near-field communications chip needed to power digital car keys. That means no one else can create a digital car key for an Apple device except Apple itself. Apple’s refusal to open up its NFC chip to payment services has… already led to European Union antitrust taxes (Apple has said it won’t allow third parties to access the chip for security reasons).

CarPlay may not just be a taste of the Apple Car. Antitrust proponents fear it could also be a foretaste of a world where nearly all cars are powered by the operating systems of just two companies. Brown, of the American Economic Liberties Project, sees no reason to think that Big Tech companies wouldn’t try to dominate that space like they have others.

“Unless by some miracle they decide to overcome their tendency to abuse their dominance, I think because of what they can offer, they will, and they will displace others,” she said. “Like Apple with their App Store.”

Before the iPhone came, it was hard to imagine a world where you relied on your phone while driving. Fifteen years later, it’s hard to imagine using your car without your phone to show you the way, play music, make calls, and even unlock your door and… in possession of your driver’s license† In another 15 years, we may be living in a world full of vehicles that are autonomous, electric, and powered by the same companies that power our phones. They may work better than anything traditional auto companies and services could have done on their own, but the price could also be much higher than we realize.

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