Ford Posts Record $1.69 Billion Third-Quarter Profit

A recent GAO report concluded car companies don't adequately disclose how and why they share location data.

As cars collect and store more and more data about the whereabouts of their drivers, automakers are responding to critics who say they should be more transparent about how those details are used. Ford is hiring a global privacy policy attorney to craft the company's customer privacy policies in the era of connected and autonomous cars.

"In this emerging space, there is an important need to address customer privacy policies," reads a job description posted on the "people and careers" portion of the company's website. "As part of our compliance and ethics organization at Ford, this person will have an immediate and direct impact in shaping existing and future policy and corporate thinking in this area."

Ford is creating the new position, based at its Dearborn headquarters, at a time technology advances are outpacing privacy protections. Earlier this year, a report from the federal government concluded car companies don't adequately disclose to motorists how and why they share location data.

That report, from the Government Accountability Office, found many car companies did not describe how they shared location data, did not allow consumers to request their data be deleted and that there was a "wide variation" in how car companies retained vehicle-specific or identifiable location data. It noted there is increased risk of location data being used in ways "consumers did not intend."

Ford was one of 10 companies the GAO surveyed while compiling its report.

Customers are opting to share that data largely by using features like maps and turn-by-turn direction that are run by a vehicle's telematics unit. Depending on the company, it can be unclear how that data is collected, retained or shared. At the time the GAO report was issued, AAA, the nation's largest motoring club, urged carmakers to be more transparent in how they handle data and to offer stronger security protections.

Girl whispering to boy

Shaping Autonomous Car Regulations

At Ford, the new hire could change how the company handles that data. According to the job description, the successful applicant will, "demonstrate visionary thinking around privacy strategy – imagine how consumer and employee expectations around privacy may evolve and how business should adapt, develop approaches that maximize the benefit of data sharing for consumers and business, etc." (Emphasis from Ford).

This person will create new consumer-facing privacy statements and monitor US regulatory developments, which seem all the more important than ever since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced last week it would begin establishing rules that govern vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications that will provide the foundation for the autonomous-car environment.

While it's a new position, the global privacy policy attorney will function within an already-established privacy group that works within Ford's Office of the General Counsel. This group works on all aspects of privacy law and policy both within the U.S. and globally. A company spokesperson says that Ford "takes privacy seriously -- including protection of both customer and employee data."

Interested in applying? Among the job requirements: Ford wants its new privacy attorney to hold a Juris Doctorate and have 5 to 8 years experience developing privacy policies for internet, social media and global positioning software.

Young couple kissing in car at a red carpet event, man is shielding with his arm outstretched blocking paparazzi photographers

Other Companies Have Similar Roles

General Motors and Chrysler also have equivalent positions. At GM, Jill Phillips holds the title of chief privacy officer and leads a team that works on vehicle privacy and connected-vehicle issues. Chrysler has "a team dedicated to this issue," according to a spokesperson.

Location data has been a growing concern for privacy advocates who fear it could be used to obtain information about motorists' whereabouts and travel habits. Information about a driver's political activity or religious affiliation could be gleaned from this data.

Such concerns were accentuated early this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas when then-Ford vice president Jim Farley told a crowd, "We know everyone who breaks the law. We know when you are doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing." Later, he distanced himself from the claims.


Are you concerned about privacy/data security in your car?
I'm very concerned321 (58.3%)
I'm somewhat concerned137 (24.9%)
I'm not very concerned85 (15.4%)
I'm not sure8 (1.5%)