Android Auto, CarPlay, and Data Tracking

By Scott VaughanAutomotive Cyber Security, Automotive Technology, , ,


Last fall Motor Trend published an article about the forthcoming 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera and Carrera S, and in that article we learned that Porsche’s updated infotainment/telematics system would not include Android Auto compatibility. The article states that Porsche balked at the amount and/or types of data that would be transmitted back to Google when a car used Android Auto. In fact, the article says Google wanted “a total OBD2 dump” of data whenever Android Auto was activated. Porsche chose to support Apple CarPlay, because rather than collecting data on speed, throttle position, engine revs, and more, Apple reportedly just collects information on whether the car is moving when CarPlay is in use.

Porsche was seemingly loath to share data that might give away trade secrets about its cars and what makes them unique. It is worth keeping in mind that Google is actively researching and developing their own cars, so it is at least somewhat understandable why an automaker like Porsche might wish to keep their cards close to the vest.

One thing that remains a bit puzzling is that Porsche, a Volkswagen-owned company, declined using Android Auto, yet many 2016 and 2017 Volkswagen-branded vehicles do include Android Auto compatibility.

Following the initial Motor Trend article, Google responded that Android Auto does not in fact collect some of the data points Porsche had claimed, such as coolant temp and throttle position. However, Google’s spokesperson stopped short of enumerating exactly what data is collected, and also stressed that a user must “opt in” to share information when first connecting his or her phone to the car. Google asserted that some of the collected data is used for safety, so that the system can be used hands-free when the car is in drive, while other data may be purposed for optimizing the app’s user experience (e.g., using the headlights’ status to tell whether it is dark outside, since Android Auto apps can be optimized for day or night).

Also following the Motor Trend article, both Ford and GM released statements that in their vehicles, Android Auto only has access to GPS data and basic vehicle information like the time of day and whether the car is in park or drive. GM claimed that they do not transmit any data to Google that is not necessary for the use of Android Auto.

TechCrunch offers an interesting possibility in their article on the Porsche matter, namely that Google may have initially approached automakers requesting a deeper data set with Android Auto than what is currently being shared. If so, Porsche may have made their decision to turn down Google at that time and quickly shifted focus to Apple’s CarPlay, though whether this scenario is what actually happened remains unknown.

In any event, the number of manufacturers supporting Android Auto and CarPlay has risen dramatically over the last year and a half, so neither standard will be going away anytime soon. Determining precisely what data is being recorded and shared by Android Auto and CarPlay remains a key topic worthy of further forensic exploration.

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