Ford has announced that buyers of its newest Ford Escape will get a free mobile connection linking their SUV to their smartphone over AT&T’s high-speed cellular network.
The connection will be available free for five years and will allow drivers to unlock their car, start it, check the gas level or locate a parked vehicle all from a linked smartphone. Ford AT&T say that they plan to offer the “SYNC Connect” service in at least 10 million vehicles over the next five years.
The two companies expect the program to scale up quickly across Ford’s entire line in North America.
“That’s how you get billions — first you get millions,” Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobile and Business Solutions, said at a press conference at earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Consumers are intrigued by connected car technology but have expressed worries about security and privacy, with regulators working hard to keep up with the pace of development. Over half of of car drivers surveyed by Parks Associates last year said they were very concerned about connected car security and 55% were concerned about use of their location data. Many say they will continue to rely on their smartphone connections.
Those fears were stoked in July when Wired reported that hackers had taken control of a Jeep via its online entertainment system. Chrysler (FCAU) then recalled 1.4 million vehicles to eliminate the software vulnerability.
The car industry, including Ford, agreed to set of privacy protection principles in 2014 that require getting permission from consumers before sensitive data, including driving behavior, can be collected or shared with third parties. The industry submitted the principles to the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees privacy regulation.
Most car companies are already going beyond what is required in the self-regulatory oversight agreement, says Elliot Katz, an attorney at DLA Piper who works on privacy issues. “The car companies have every incentive to get this right,” Katz says. “No one wants to be known as the car company that’s not protecting their customers privacy.”