Maybe we took a look at what has been talked about for a long time, long awaited Apple Car when the company discovered the next generation of CarPlay features at the annual World Developers Conference. The new CarPlay, due out next year, will essentially turn your car’s dashboard into a giant iPhone.
If you like Apple products (and cars), this was probably an exciting announcement. But antitrust advocates and lawmakers who believe Big Tech already has too much power over too many aspects of American life feel different.
“All the big technology companies have tried to maintain their dominance in these emerging industries,” Krista Brown, a senior political analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project, an antitrust advocacy organization, told Recode. It’s not just cars, she said, but things like virtual reality and financial technology. “What you notice about all of them is that they contain huge amounts of data.”
Google and Apple have been switching to cars for almost a decade, from powering the dashboard and infotainment system to building autonomous and electric vehicles. As cars have become, in essence, giant computers, it is logical that technology companies that produce smaller computers would want (and could) take advantage of that. As an added bonus, it’s an opportunity for them to attract new customers to their digital ecosystems – which then makes it much harder to compete with companies that don’t have those ecosystems – and get a lot more information about where we’re going and what we’re doing. These data then give these companies an even greater competitive advantage.
“There is 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 are becoming the only suppliers of that information, ”Brown said.
Apple, which claims that CarPlay is available in over 98 percent of cars in the United States, is not the only company trying to get deeper into your dashboard. Amazon’s Alexa is an option for more and more cars, with some models offering Alexa Built-In, where the digital assistant comes pre-installed and ready to use (as long as you have an Amazon account). You can then ask Alex to do most of the same things he will do for you in your home, such as play music, give you directions, tell you the weather, and order things from Amazon.
Google is working even harder. First, there’s Android Auto, which, like CarPlay, requires you to connect your device and then maps it to your car’s touch screen. Then there is the Android Automotive Operating System (AAOS), which is free and open source. Car manufacturers can use it to build their own infotainment systems – basically, AAOS is a car that is equivalent to Android’s mobile operating system. Finally, there are Google Automotive Services, which are applications that car manufacturers license with Google that car manufacturers can offer in their infotainment systems, including Maps, Play Store and Assistant – a car that is equivalent to Google Play services on Android mobile devices.
The adoption of AAOS is booming: while less than 1 percent of cars sold today use Android Automotive, industry analyst Gartner predicts that 70 percent of cars sold in 2028. This does not mean that everyone will have Google Automotive Services (currently, several manufacturers do not have them), nor that consumers will be limited to Google offers if they have it. This means that Google could soon have an operating system that runs most new car infotainment systems.
“Car manufacturers have been trying for several years to build an ecosystem of customer-oriented digital services around their vehicles, but have largely failed in the type and breadth of these services, as well as the real convenience they provide to customers.” a recent Gartner report he said. “As technology and software become more and more decisive factors for this industry, technology companies see here as an opportunity to further leverage their expertise.”
Basically, if you’re buying a new car these days, most will offer support for Android Auto, Apple CarPlay or Amazon Alexa – if not all three. Proponents of antitrust law and some lawmakers see this as another way in which these huge companies can attract more people into their ecosystems and make it harder for them to leave. This will give these companies much more data and make it harder for new or smaller companies to compete. Recently, some consumer groups have sounded the alarm.
U letter antitrust hawks, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and rep. To David Cicilline (D-RI) and antitrust agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department last January, 28 groups of consumers and antitrust activists warned that Big Tech’s “next target” was the automotive industry. Among the signatories of the letter are Brown’s American Economic Freedoms Project, as well as Demand Progress, Public Citizen and the Surveillance Technology Surveillance Project. She was particularly concerned about consumer privacy, given the vast amounts of data generated by cars that Big Tech companies can collect and use.
“Implications for data privacy and security are serious,” the letter said. “Google is already profiting from the history of our search engine. Imagine that they too can cash in on our behavior behind the wheel. They know where we’re going, what we’re looking for, and now they’ll know how often we use turn signals or cross five miles across the border. “
In April, MP Jamie Raskin (D-MD), along with 10 other Democratic representatives, wrote to the FTC and DOJ with its concerns about Big Tech and the automotive industry, seeing this as a chance to get ahead of a potential competition problem before several companies dominate other markets – as Google and Apple have done with smartphone operating systems.
“Big Tech is rapidly doing to cars what it has already done with mobile phones,” the letter reads. “Urgent action is needed to protect workers, privacy and a competitive landscape.”
Technology companies, in turn, give the usual assurances that consumer data will be protected and that consumer choice of privacy will be respected. They also often point out that there is a lot of competition and choice in the automotive industry, both for consumers (who for now can usually choose from several related car offers from different companies or do not use any) and for car manufacturers looking for technology companies to power their infotainment systems. .
It is also worth noting that there is a reason why car manufacturers (and consumers) may accept Big Tech offers: they are better. Infotainment systems in the car are notoriously bad; Ford (which was run by Microsoft) was so hated that it was the subject of a class action lawsuit.
“Info-entertainment and in-car navigation are an area where carmakers and drivers have been actively seeking our investments and products to enhance the experience,” a Google spokesman told Recode. “Car manufacturers have decided to work with us for more than a decade because we give them choice and flexibility, and we provide a variety of useful and safe experiences for drivers.”
Pedro Pacheco, an automotive industry analyst at Gartner, said it’s not about Big Tech taking over an area that belongs to the automotive industry, but that carmakers understand how well Big Tech’s digital ecosystems can work for them as their products integrate more and more and more technology.
“Car manufacturers have never owned a digital ecosystem,” Pacheco said. “Car manufacturers need to use a high-tech digital ecosystem to offer their customers more and better digital features.”
But proponents of antitrust law are not just concerned with Big Tech and infotainment systems. They also see these moves as the beginning of a possible future in which Big Tech will has a much larger role in vehicles as these vehicles become increasingly dependent on sophisticated driving technology. These companies are investing heavily in more than just infotainment systems and dashboards. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, owns technology company Waymo for self-driving. Amazon bought Zoox, an autonomous vehicle launcher, and owns a part electric car manufacturer Rivian. And Microsoft, which has been operating in the vehicle space for decades, is making its moves in self-driving vehicles with investment in Cruise, self-driving electric car and delivery service.
Apple seems to be following its smartphone manual for its cars: it owns and controls hardware, software and services. The Apple Carit is rumored that it is an autonomous, electric vehicle over which Apple would, of course, have a lot of control. It’s easy to see a world where third parties who want to make apps or services or anything for your Apple Car are subject to Apple’s terms and conditions (and all commissions) to do so, just as they are for most things in your iPhone. Just look at how Apple used its control over iPhones to provide that exclusive access to the near-field communication chip needed to power the car’s digital keys. This means that no one else can make a digital car key for an Apple device except Apple itself. Apple has refused to open its NFC chip for payment services already led to the European Union’s antitrust allegations (Apple said it does not allow third parties to access the chip for security reasons).
CarPlay may not be just an overview of Apple Car. Proponents of antitrust law fear that it could also be an overview of a world in which almost all cars are powered by the operating systems of just two companies. Brown, from the U.S. Economic Freedom Project, sees no reason to think big tech companies wouldn’t try to dominate that space the way they have others.
“Unless they miraculously decide to overcome their attraction to the abuse of their dominance, I think that because of what they can provide, and that they will squeeze out others,” she said. “The same way Apple has with its App Store.”
Before the iPhone came along, it was hard to imagine a world where you rely on the phone while driving a car. Fifteen years later, it’s hard to imagine using a car without a phone to give you directions, play music, make calls, and even unlock doors and you have a driver’s license. For the next 15 years, we may be living in a world full of vehicles that are autonomous, electric, and powered by the same companies that run our phones. They may work better than anything traditional car companies and services could do on their own, but the cost can be much higher than we think.