How Android on Ford Could Affect Your Privacy

Key Takeaways

  • Ford and Lincoln cars will use Android for their info and entertainment systems starting in 2023.
  • Google will provide cloud services for Ford.
  • Experts believe Google will use this as another way to access your data.
Ford Mustang Mach E interior with front display
Ford

When Ford cars start running on Android, Google could have another way to peek at our data, experts say.

Ford and Google have formed a collaborative group called Team Upshift to bring Android to Ford vehicles in 2023 and work on future updates. Based on Ford’s blog post about the partnership, it sounds like Google will take over Ford’s operating system duties, leaving Ford engineers to work on "unique Ford and Lincoln customer innovations." It’s convenient for users, and for Ford, but there are two problems. One is Android security, and the other is Google, itself.

"Google will probably try to cash in on the data it gets from drivers," Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate at Comparitech, told Lifewire via email. "Google Maps integration alone is a massive trove of valuable data that Google can use to track drivers’ locations, traffic conditions, and even with whom they’re traveling. This data is, in turn, used for advertising."

Convenience vs. Security

Using Android to run the non-driving parts of a car is convenient for Ford because the automaker can more of less just drop it in. 

"Technology is often easier to purchase than to develop," automotive expert Melanie Musson of AutoInsurance.org, told Lifewire via email, "and Ford has decided to stop funding their smart-feature development and instead pay for Android and Google technology."

It’s also handy for drivers. If you’re used to Android, and/or you use Google’s apps regularly, then you’ll find Ford’s infotainment system familiar. 

But this convenience comes at a cost.

"Ford owners should expect to be required to agree to the usual Google data collection..."

First, users should be cautious about the apps they allow into their car. Your phone is already a trove of data, ready to be mined by unscrupulous app makers. Android apps, just like iOS apps, contain trackers that send all kinds of data back to either the developer, or to third-party companies that pay app makers to put tracking code into their apps.

Cars aren’t likely to be any worse, privacy-wise, than your phone, but given our ability to ignore privacy risks when offered convenience, they probably won’t be much better, either.

"The problem with some third-party apps is the user may not know what information the app is taking and using," says Musson.

The Google Problem

And then there’s Google itself. Like Facebook, Google’s ad business runs on the information it can collect about its users. And a car is a rich vein, with location data, entertainment choices, and so on. Ford will also be using Google as its cloud provider.

Ford promo image showing their partnership with Google
Ford

"One of the touted benefits of this joint venture is that the system will store driving data to improve the driver experience and help Ford develop better features to fit customer needs," explains Musson. "Google is not supposed to have access to this information even though it’s stored in their cloud service. The problem is that once information is stored, it can be accessed."

All it takes is an unnoticed change to the software licensing agreement, and your data is fair game.

"Google is all about collecting data from users," Chris Hauk of consumer privacy group Pixel Privacy told Lifewire via email, "so Ford owners should expect to be required to agree to the usual Google data collection in order to get the full use of their infotainment systems."

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