Ford Issues Damage Control for GPS Tracking Remarks

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Ford (NYSE:F) marketing chief Jim Farley made a bit of a faux pas on Wednesday, when he acknowledged through remarks at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that Ford tracks its customers using cars’ built-in navigation systems. On Thursday, the automaker found itself doing some backpedaling on Farley’s statement, and Farley himself apologized.

“We know everyone who breaks the law. We know when you’re doing it,” Farley was quoted by Business Insider as saying. “We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.”

In response, Ford leapt into damage control mode. “Ford is absolutely committed to protecting our customers’ privacy,” a company spokesman said, per The Detroit News. “We do not track our customers. No data is transmitted from the vehicle without the customer’s express consent.” The Detroit News reports that customers give consent when they use a navigation or voice-activated system.

Farley’s comments come at a particularly sensitive time for the U.S., still simmering with uncertainty after revelations that the National Security Agency collects records of millions of Americans’ phone records, among other things.

For what it’s worth, Farley apologized for pushing the “wrong impression” during an interview with CNBC. “We don’t monitor, aggregate data on how people drive,” he said. “I’ve given people the wrong impression. I regret that.”

Moreover, Farley’s remarks run alongside a note from AAA, which just this week was urging companies to protect consumer data used in GPS systems. A government report published earlier this week found that major automakers are in fact keeping information about where drivers have been by using the data collected from onboard navigation systems, The Detroit News reports.

The data collection strategies are not new: the information is used for real-time traffic information, assistance finding the nearest gas stations or restaurants, emergency services if needed, and stolen vehicle tracking. However, The Detroit News notes that the report found that “If companies retained data, they did not allow consumers to request that their data be deleted, which is a recommended practice.”

The report also observed that the automakers — as well as other GPS manufacturers like Garmin or TomTom — “had taken steps to protect privacy and were not selling personal data of owners,” according to The Detroit News.

“The data that today can be routinely collected by cars includes some of the most sensitive data that can be collected about a person, including information about their precise location and driving habits,” Bob Darbelnet, the president and CEO of AAA, said.

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