The automotive industry needs legislation to protect drivers' privacy as more cars utilize data for location tracking and other services, Ford Motor Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally said.
Ford is "supportive and participating" in talks with regulators who are considering such laws, Mulally said Tuesday at the Detroit auto show. The second-largest U.S. automaker has countered comments made last week by its global marketing chief, who said Ford knows when drivers of its vehicles violate traffic laws through its global-positioning system data.
"It's just really important that we have boundaries and guidelines to operate," Mulally told reporters on the sidelines of the show. "Our homes, the cars, everything is going to be on the Internet. Everything's going to be connected. And so what are the guidelines? What do we want?"
In-vehicle technology is the top selling point for 39 percent of car buyers today, more than twice the 14 percent who say their first consideration is traditional performance measures such as power and speed, according to a study that consulting firm Accenture released in December. A separate Government Accountability Office report last month said that while carmakers and navigation-device companies are taking steps to protect privacy, some risks may not be clear to consumers.
Jim Farley, executive vice president of global marketing at Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford, said on a panel at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week that Ford can use technology to know when a driver commits a criminal act.
"We know everyone who breaks the law; we know when you're doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing," he said, according to Business Insider. "By the way, we don't supply that data to anyone."
Mulally said Tuesday that Farley's comments were inaccurate.
"What he said was not right," he said. "We do not track the vehicles. That's absolutely wrong. We would never track the vehicles. And we'd only send data to get map data if they agree that that's OK to do that, but we don't do anything with the data, we don't track it and we would never do that."
The GAO published its report in response to a request by Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, who in 2011 proposed a law intended to protect the privacy of mobile-device users' location data. The report "underscores the need for me to reintroduce and pass my location-privacy bill," Franken said in a Jan. 6 statement.
Franken is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, and has offered separate proposals to require more disclosure by the National Security Agency of its operations, after documents released by former government contractor Edward Snowden sparked a firestorm over privacy concerns.
Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of the third-largest U.S. automaker Chrysler Group and its owner Fiat said Monday his companies don't collect data on its customers.
"We have been very, very wary of either having direct access in a personal way to the vehicle itself," Marchionne told reporters at the auto show. "We have left this information in such large data status that it cannot, in any way, shape or form, allow us to formulate a view of either a particular individual or a class of people."
The number of cars connected to the Internet worldwide will grow more than sixfold to 152 million in 2020 from 23 million now, according to researcher IHS Automotive.
"We're in a connected world," Mulally said. "So this whole thing about our data, privacy, whatever; there's going to be a lot of good work done to establish guidelines and expectations. It's great that is happening now."