black lamborghini vehicle steering wheel

Your Car is Selling You Out

black lamborghini vehicle steering wheel

Your Car is Selling You Out

On the dashboard of my car is a tiny square, just a little bit bigger than a postage stamp, that is worse than my sister ever was.

If I drive too fast, it tattles.

If I brake too hard, it tattles.

If I accelerate too quickly — though I struggle to think how this would be possible in a 2017 Nissan Versa — it would tattle.

And I accept that. In return for opening that window into my driving habits, I theoretically can save money on my car insurance. Yet even this claim is a bit duplicitous. When this technology came about, most insurance companies simply raised rates on those who didn’t agree to the sanctioned snooping and lower them only for those whose allegedly “safe” driving is verifiable.

But fine. Whatever. That’s a topic for another day.

What I don’t accept is how Big Data companies are turning cars into spies, allowing data brokers to sell a lot more than my driving habits to advertisers all too eager to drink from the firehose of information about me and all of the rest of us who fail to realize their vehicles are just like smartphones — only worse.

How Bad Is It?

Bad. Very bad.

While smartphone companies and apps like Facebook, err, Meta, have been castigated and fined for their sketchy privacy protection performance, the world of smartcar spying is largely unregulated when it comes to data collection and use. Most companies gathering the data fly under the radar and are names you’ve never heard of — companies such as Here and Telenav and Otonomo and INRIX.

And here’s the thing: You’ve agreed to let companies like this do whatever they want with your data because you’re just like every single other human being out there who doesn’t read the fine print before clicking that you agree with every single word in that fine print.

If you happened to pause and read that fine print, you’d see that simply by purchasing a car or signing up for state-mandate car insurance, you’re agreeing to allow data companies to gather and sell information about you to, yes, help with traffic management, electric vehicle infrastructure planning and mapping, but also to allow advertisers to learn every single driving-related habit you might have.

“But I have nothing to hide,” you said.

Good. Because you’re up for bid. Among the data your car is constantly gathering from you:

  • Your precise location at precise times.
  • Whether your doors are locked.
  • What song you’re listening to.
  • How fast you’re going.
  • What the internal cabin temperature is.
  • Whether the sunroof is opened.
  • Whether you have passengers in the car.
  • Which seats those passengers are sitting in.
  • Whether you applied the brakes.
  • If you used your turn signal.
  • Whether your headlights are on.
  • If your oil level is low.

And that might be fine. Except your car isn’t just collecting that information for a rainy day. It’s actively tattling on you. Your car’s data center is constantly searching for the nearest Vehicle Data Hub (yes, that’s a thing) to beam your information to so it can be collected by the companies mentioned above and the dozens and dozens of others just like them.

Anonymized & Aggregated

Now, the good news is this: Your information is usually anonymized and aggregated with the information of all the other drivers around you whose cars are selling them out.


I say that because I’ve seen it not work that way.

I worked at a company that provided benefits to a religious denomination’s workers. How people interacted with our website was deemed important to make it more relevant and easier to navigate. So they started recording how individual users used the site.

I could watch recordings of how you scrolled around the site, with all the information needed to identify you as an individual. I could see how you moved your mouse. I could see what you stopped to read. I could see what you clicked on.

So if you thought you were looking up information about a sensitive and personal health topic, well, just know that anyone with the same access to the computer system I had could learn all about what was ailing you. Nowhere and in no way were site visitors told they were being recorded. And I must stress this again: This was an insurance provider with ties to a rel1igious denomination.

Sure, that information was eventually aggregated and anonymized. Eventually. Just as your car data is eventually aggregated and anonymized.

Again, usually.

This Is Consent?

Some of these companies don’t even pretend that they’re anonymizing and aggregating. Instead, they fall back on the “user consent” thing and say your information is being sent only to insurers for underwriting purposes.

Cool. But did you know this is what you consented to? You do now.

Even those companies that profess to hold your data tighter than a toddler does his blankie are far from perfect. In one example, Otonomo — which emphasizes “privacy and security by design” and promotes the use of patented “data blurring” technology — was found in 2021 to have individual vehicle data in free samples on its site.

Not very blurry, huh?

How precise is this data? Fortunately, some of these companies are publicly traded and are forced to reveal some of their dirty little secrets. For example, take Wejo, a vehicle data hub based in England that says its data represents one in every 28 vehicles in the United States. It claims to own 16.2 trillion data points and 76.7 billion driver journeys with accuracy down to 3 meters.

Think there are advertisers out there who would love that information about you? Also, do you wonder if there might be some bad actors in the dingier haunts of the internet who could find creative ways to use that data about you, your husband, you children?

Sadly, this sort of thing isn’t rare. A popular app used by parents to track the whereabouts of their minor kids was discovered to be selling precise user locations openly on the internet to whomever wanted to buy it. That meant your child’s daily patterns were knowable by anyone.

Sleep well.

Can You Stop This?

So what can you do? Right now, short of reverting to a horse and buggy, not much. If you’ve bought a car made after around the early 2010s, it is selling you out, and there are very few ways to stop it.

Though they are far, far, far from perfect, smartphone makers such as Apple and Google have created finely detailed mechanisms to turn off pieces and parts of the flood of information flowing out of your pocket.

Most cars have little to none of that.

You’re either in or out when you click on the terms of service, and as we know, most don’t stop to read those things because of the assumption that if we don’t agree, we’re not going to be able to partake in the fancy shmancy service being dangled in front of our faces.

A good place to start would be to allow data to be used only in the spirit of which it’s gathered. So, for example, if you consent to giving out your location data to provide your precise place on a map, it should be used only to deliver that service, not to sell it to a data broker who’s going to market it to businesses all along the streets you frequent or whoever else wants to buy it.

Right now, awareness is key. That’s what sparked Apple to become a leader in pushing data privacy — not because they truly care about your privacy, mind you, but because they found they could sell more phones and apps since you care about it and they can use it as a differentiator from other smartphone manufacturers.

Eventually, with enough awareness, a car company or two will find it in their best financial interest to do the same thing, to promote itself as the car that doesn’t tattle and sell you out.

How much more would you be willing to pay for that kind of privacy?

Let’s hope we soon have the chance to find out.

John Agliata is a marketing professional with more than 30 years of communications experience. Reach him at or (352) 226-5852.

More From ‘That Marketing Guy’

Five Dumb Things About The American Workplace

Welcome to Issue No. 16 of Listicles, the feature that presents the Top 10, Top 5, Top 3, Top 100 or Top 1,000,000 of whatever it is you want to know about. Email your Listicle suggestions to Very few of us would actually continue at our jobs were we financially able to not. That…

What Type of Bosses Do Employees Leave?

If you accept the truism that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses, the next question is obvious: “What do bosses do that cause their people to leave?” The answers to that are as varied as the types of horrible bosses, but it’s possible to roll those individual reasons into just a few bigger buckets.…

Democracy and Newspapers

The three most influential people in my life as a journalist are, sadly, all part of the Great Newsroom in the Sky now. Professors Michael Perkins and Bob Woodward (AKA Bob Woodward-Not-That-Bob-Woodward) helped educate me at Drake University, and Lisa Warren was the best editor of the Dayton Daily News’ Southwest Ohio papers who ever…

Why Your White-Collar Job Is In Jeopardy

Far be it from me — a guy who struggled to get through high school algebra — to suggest performance on standardized math tests is the barometer by which we should measure a nation’s educational system. Yet it is true that those who do well in math and science move into more white-collar jobs than…

A Big Reason Your Workers Are Cranky About RTO

Here’s a workplace truth: Management often has no clue what the rank-and-file are thinking. This is often because employees suck at communicating directly, though their fear of doing so is often justified because of, shall we say, overzealous HR departments. Too often, however, it’s because managers are so used to being managers that they’re not…

The Biggest Hiring Mistake Managers Make

I received a phone call from the CEO of the company for which I served as marketing director at about 6:30 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. I was waiting in the parking lot of a nice restaurant for my wife to arrive. “John, our recent hires have been horrible. Why?” he asked. This was the same…

How Data Is Ruining Baseball (And How It Can Fix It, Too)

Smart businesses allow data to guide their marketing. The ability to do this is relatively new and likely not to last too much longer. A firehose stream of information is available on a company’s marketing campaign performance, its customers and its potential customers. That stream is so strong that there’s a movement afoot to create…

Top 5 ‘Thank-Yous’ To The Bad Bosses Out There

Bad bosses shouldn’t be. Of course, I’ve never met anyone who self-identifies as a bad boss, yet we all know they’re out there, and yes, indeed, without a shadow of a doubt, they do suck. I’ve had more than my fair share of bad bosses over the course of my career, from the one who…

Meet Johnny Boy’s Newest Client

There’s some humor to be found in the newest client on the Johnny Boy Marketing roster. Envision Benefits Group is an employee benefits, payroll and HR consulting company based in Buffalo, NY. Started just before the pandemic, it has not only survived by is thriving under owner and president Kristin Devereaux. Now to the humor:…

A Secret Look Inside a Nuthin’ Story

One of my clients is a former newspaper colleague who now runs his own marketing firm and who has more work than he knows what to do with. Truth be told, whereas once I was a mentor to him when he was a young journalist, he’s now a mentor to me as I seek to…

The Most Important Work Lesson I’ve Learned

I’m not quite sure when I went from being the working world’s wide-eyed newbie to the grizzled veteran I see in the rearview mirror when I start the car for my evening commute home, yet here we are. I’ll be 48 years old in a few weeks, and I’ve been doing this marketing/communications thing since…

WFH 4EVER? Not So Fast

It’s good to be the king.” Mel Brooks, History of the World: Part 1 I am currently sitting in an office that no one else wanted to fill. Two weeks ago, I started a new job with a company that had a zero-WFH (Work From Home) policy as one of the conditions of hiring. That,…

The Rise of Horny Marketing

RadioShack is taking a controversial approach to its social media marketing. It’s capturing attention. But will the new approach grow sales? “If you find a squirter, marry her.” RadioShack’s Twitter RadioShack getting horny with its marketing is kind of like walking in on your grandparents having sex, and yet here we are, standing in the…

Gamifying War: Where Are They Now?

Nearly 20 years after the U.S. turned Iraqi’s Most Wanted into playing cards, many of the captured have been released or died while in custody, but several remain at large. A U.S.-led coalition stormed into Iraq on March 20, 2003, ostensibly to seek and destroy the weapons of mass destruction our intelligence showed most definitely,…

Four Steps to Market Your Way Through a Recession (Plus a Bonus Tip!)

THE FOUR STEPSNo Axes 🪓Strengthen 💪Attack 🥷🏿Don’t Stop ⏳ BONUS: 🥶🧊❄️ The go-to inevitabilities in American society tend to be death and taxes — and with good reason. After all, death is coming for all of us at some point, and income taxes were supposed to be a temporary fix to help fund the Union…

An Ugly Consequence When Abortion and Big Data Collide

Every decision carries a consequence. Economists call it an opportunity cost. Politicians often simply call it an opportunity. Parents sometimes call it grounds for punishment. Whatever it’s called by whomever it’s called, the fact is that every single decision we make sets us down a new path, a new timeline, a new reality wholly separate…

Top 5 Cringeworthy Marketing Mistakes

The Top 55. Solving Racism with Kendall 🏴4. Coke is a Feeling 🥤3. Fish > Death 🐟2. Arab Spring Ignorance 👳1. White Power PSP 🎮 As most people do, I made my first on-the-job mistake in my very first job. I was a blueprint copier for an architect who ate a pile of onions on…

It’s a (Dysfunctional) Family Matter

Top 3 questions to ask yourself before going into business with relatives. My wife, Carla, is an amazing woman. She is exceedingly brilliant, the owner of a whole lot more A’s in school growing up than her future husband had. We’ve known each other for nearly three decades now, the past 25 as spouses. And…

The Inside Story of Johnny Boy Marketing

Big things happen in odd places and at the strangest times. I met my future wife in the basement of a dingy college residence hall. The biggest boost to my career came when I had to cancel an interview with someone who could have been President of the United States. And I realized I could…

Why So Much Marketing Data Analysis is Wrong

Any idiot can gather data. In fact, idiots are gathering data all the time. Smart people are, too. So are ants and mosquitos. Every time I drive a car, I’m constantly gathering data. My brain is doing what human brains do to judge distance, speed and alignment and how each might be influenced by things…

The One Thing That Makes a Coach ‘Good’

What makes a good coach? Interesting question, but it’s the wrong one. Oh, that question has all the right words. They’re just in the wrong order. If you want to talk about what makes a good coach, we can list a bunch of coach-worthy attributes — things such as charisma, assertiveness, fairness, consistency. But again,…

Top 3 Super-Secret Event Planning Tips

I have absolutely zero formal training when it comes to planning events. Before this became part of my job duties, I hadn’t planned so much as a birthday party for my child. Of course, I have zero formal training for a lot of the things I do in my job as a marketer and communicator.…

It’s Not the Technology; It’s Us

It’s easy to say Facebook — sorry, Meta — is evil. They do such a good job of proving the point for us. They routinely violate their own privacy policies, they know what they do is bad for people and bad for society, and they lie when subpoenaed to testify before Congress because they know…

When the Popular Vote Doesn’t Matter in Marketing

⬇️ What’s Below ⬇️Marketing: Science or Art? 🔬🎨The nature of feelings 🤗😭😡How to measure success in marketing 📊 Here’s one thing that doesn’t impress me much as a marketing guy: The popular vote. This might seem crazy, considering the goal of marketing is, at its core, to inspire the most people to buy your product…

The BM Files – Goodwill/St. Louis Aquarium

Welcome to The Bad Marketing Files, the place where we look at marketing efforts ranging from the slightly off-message to the truly horrendous. The SettingA Goodwill/St. Louis Aquarium billboard on Interstate 70 The ProblemThe billboard sends messages neither entity wants associated with its brand. Today’s BM Rating💩 out of a possible💩💩💩💩💩(Translation: It’s not good, but…

Sharing My Story Via Podcast

When it comes to podcasts, I need a 12-step program. I counted this morning, and I regularly or semi-regularly keep up with 16 of them. There are dozen and dozens of more that had a limited run that I plowed through at some point over the last seven or eight years. My addiction is a…

Let Your Storytellers Explore Their Multiple Personalities

One of the best parts of being a professional storyteller is that, if you find the right environments, you can explore the many different facets of your personality. And it’s a storyteller’s obligation to explore them, as well as to find the parts that are hidden in the dark corners or are guarded by the…

The Dark Side of Marketing: Big Brother Really Is Watching

What if I told you… … that when you visited a certain website, every single thing you do is being monitored? I’m not just talking about what you click on or what you buy. Most of us have at least an inkling that companies are doing that. I’m talking about actual recordings being made of…

The Boy Scouts are wrong: Preparation is overrated

Back in college at good old Drake University (JO 92… T-Ders will understand), I had some pretty fantastic journalism professors. There was, of course, the legendary Bob-Woodward-Not-That-Bob-Woodward, who, though he worked in Washington, D.C., during the Watergate era, did not, in fact, do any of the reporting that brought down a president. More important to…

My Most Important Interview

I have interviewed hundreds of people during my career, everyone from professional athletes and presidential candidates to the woman promoting a charity bake sale. This past week, I interviewed my wife. Her dad — my amazing father-in-law — died early Sunday morning after a two-month fight with COVID and other complications. I sit here now,…

Patrick Ewing in a Jock Strap

When I was a wee-little storyteller of 17 years, I had the opportunity to go to the New York Knicks training camp to interview their rookie point guard, Greg Anthony. At 6’0″, I was able to look eye-to-eye with the just-out-of-UNLV star while I talked with him in the weight room. Five feet away, a…

Storytellers vs. Content Writers (and why your business wants the first one)

All storytellers can be content writers. Not all content writers can be storytellers. And if you’re running a business or a marketing department, you most definitely want storytellers. So what’s the difference? There are many, but the key one is the focus. Content writers are fine. The good ones will produce lots of copy that…

One response to “Your Car is Selling You Out”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: