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Sen. Franken Presses Ford Motor to Clarify GPS Data Collection Practices

On Heels of Releasing Investigation on In-Car Navigation Privacy, Senator Calls for Greater Transparency from Ford

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, pressed Ford Motor Company to provide the public with greater transparency over its in-car data collection practices that have recently become the subject of controversy.

Last week, a top Ford executive told an industry panel, "We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you're doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing. By the way, we don't supply that data to anyone." Although Ford has issued a series of statements walking back these remarks, the company has provided only minor clarification on the claim that Ford does not share location data with anyone.

In a letter sent today, which you can read here or below, Sen. Franken called on Ford to explain, among many things, what sensitive location information the company collects from its customers and who that data is shared with. The letter comes on the heels of an investigative report Sen. Franken released from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that shows in-car location companies-like OnStar, Garmin, and Google Maps-should be providing consumers with more information about how they use and share consumers' private location data. The report also clearly suggests that Ford does, in fact, share customer location data with third parties. To read that GAO report, click here.

"The GAO investigation found that in-car navigation companies need to give drivers more information and more clarity about how they use and share consumers' location data," said Sen. Franken. "It's troubling to see confusing and contradictory comments from Ford about something as sensitive as their customers' location data-just days after the GAO report."

"I believe this is too little transparency," wrote Sen. Franken in the letter. "American drivers deserve better."

Overall, Sen. Franken said that the GAO findings demonstrate that while companies providing in-car location services have taken concrete steps to protect their customers' privacy, more work needs to be done to ensure privacy protections for in-car navigation systems and devices, along with mapping apps. Sen. Franken said that this report has encouraged him to reintroduce his location privacy legislation in the coming months. The Location Privacy Protection Act passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support in December 2012.

Protecting Minnesotans' and Americans' consumer rights and privacy has been a priority for Sen. Franken since he came to the Senate. In addition to working to pass his location privacy legislation, Sen. Franken has pushed several companies on the privacy implications of new technologies. Last September, he raised privacy questions about Apple's new iPhone fingerprint technology and also pressed Facebook to reconsider the potential expansion of its facial recognition program. After Facebook proceeded with this expansion, Sen. Franken successfully pressed the Department of Commerce to convene privacy advocates and industry stakeholders to examine the privacy implications of facial recognition technology.

You can read the letter here or below.

January 14, 2014

Mr. Alan Mullaly, CEO
Ford Motor Company
1 American Road
Dearborn, MI 48126

Dear Mr. Mullaly:

I'm writing to express my concern about a recent statement from a Ford executive regarding company tracking and sharing of drivers' location data. According to media reports, last week, Ford's Global Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley, said at an industry panel: "We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you're doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing. By the way, we don't supply that data to anyone."

Shortly after making this statement, Mr. Farley reversed course and said: "We do not track our customers in their cars without their approval or their consent." He did not, however, seem to take back his claim that Ford "[doesn't] supply that data to anyone," although you have made recent comments clarifying that this data may be shared with user consent.

Last week, I released a comprehensive report by the Government Accountability Office on the privacy protections for location data generated by in-car navigation technology. A copy of that report is enclosed with this letter. The GAO surveyed the country's largest car manufacturers, including Ford. Page one of the report said: "[A]ll selected companies disclose that they collect and share location data." This would strongly suggest that Ford does, in fact, share its customers' location data in some form.

The GAO's core conclusion is that while companies are taking steps to protect consumer privacy, they need to give their customers more information about how and why they are collecting their location data, and why they are sharing it with third parties. According to the GAO, nine of the ten companies surveyed gave customers reasons for collecting their location data that were so "broadly worded" that they would "potentially allow for unlimited data collection and use." Five of the ten companies surveyed did not tell their customers why the companies were sharing those individuals' location data.

I believe this is too little transparency. American drivers deserve better - and Mr. Farley's latest statements underscore this problem.

In light of this confusion, I respectfully request that you provide answers to the following questions by February 1.

(1) What location information does Ford collect from drivers of Ford vehicles?

(2) How exactly does Ford obtain a driver's consent for that collection?

(3) Does Ford share any location data with anyone?

(4) What kind of location data does Ford share, and with whom does Ford share it?

(5) Does Ford share location data, in any form, with government agencies or law enforcement? If so, does Ford require a warrant before sharing that data?

(6) How exactly does Ford protect the privacy of the data that it does and does not share?

(7) How long does Ford retain this data?

(8) How long is this data retained by the third parties who have received this data from Ford?

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.


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