Dangerous Road Ahead

The Big Four tech companies have taken over your phone, your computer, your workplace, and your home. Now, they want to take over your car.

Automotive products and businesses owned by Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon are already all over the American road. There’s more on the way, including self-driving cars. The technology is exciting, but once Big Tech gets into an industry, they don’t slow down. And right now, there’s no speed limit: they can keep their foot on the gas until they’ve run every competitor off the road. 

With Big Tech in your car, it becomes just one more place where you’re under relentless surveillance. Their business is built on your personal data, and they aim to capture data about how you drive, where you go, and who you travel with.

Big Tech’s automotive ambitions are bad for our economy and dangerous for drivers. The U.S. government must take regulatory action right now to stop Big Tech from taking control of our cars, before it’s too late. Read on to learn how bad it is for our privacy, and how expensive it is for American families, to let Big Tech use its market dominance to control one more aspect of our lives.

It’s not too late to stop them, but if we don’t act now, it soon will be. Here’s what we need to do — and how you can help.

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Tracking you all day long.

When you wake up in the morning, checking your phone’s probably one of the first things you do. Devices made by Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon are everywhere — you might have several on you right now. And services like Google Search, Amazon Prime, from Facebook Marketplace to Apple Pay, are easy to use, and we all use them. Many of them are free. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a cost.

These companies’ business models are based on surveillance. They track our eyeballs, our choices, our actions, and our patterns of behavior – collecting massive amounts of data on each of us. They use this data to sell us products and services. They sell it to other companies that sell us their products and services. And they put an endless stream of digital advertising in front of us. Internet ads alone generated $350 billion dollars in revenue last year, most of it for these four companies.

This kind of surveillance is very profitable for tech companies, but we all pay for it — and not just with our wallets. When Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook collect private information about how we live, that information is subject to being hacked, stolen, and abused. And there’s no federal law protecting our right to digital privacy, so often we have no recourse when it is.

Automotive: Big Tech’s next big thing.

The Big Four alone — not counting the rest of the enormous tech industry, just these four companies — made a quarter of a trillion dollars in profit last year. To keep shareholders happy, that money has to be invested somewhere. And all four companies have decided to bet on the auto industry. 

Despite the success of a few breakout Silicon Valley stars like Tesla, most people don’t think of automotive — or, more broadly, transportation and logistics — as a technology-driven sector. But it is. Auto manufacturing, driver safety and entertainment systems, mapping and directions — these are all built on software, hardware, and networked devices. (Not to mention shipping — a modern logistics company like FedEx is primarily a software business, which happens to own some planes and trucks.) 

But software, hardware, and networked devices are things that the Big Four know something about. They know how to make them. They know how to sell them. And they know how to use their enormous market presence to drive competitors out of the market.

If you’ve driven a car made in the past ten years, you’ve probably used Apple’s CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto, the ubiquitous entertainment and information systems that integrate with your phone — and pass information back to Apple and Google about what you do when you’re in the car. The privacy and revenue implications of these features are bad enough. But Big Tech has its eyes on a bigger prize: automated driving.

These giant tech companies know autonomous electric vehicles and automated mobility and logistics are the future. There are hundreds of billions of dollars to be made from selling electric cars and trucks and the software that runs them, from operating services like driverless taxis, and from shifting their own product delivery to autonomous vehicles and robots — not to mention the money they make from advertising to us and interacting with us on digital screens while we’re being driven around.  And they want in.

So the auto industry is where all that Big Tech money is going now. Even a small investment by Big Tech in a new sector shakes things up — and they’re not starting small. They’re already driving competitors out of business, and much more of that is on the way. And leaving Big Tech unregulated, and free to cannibalize this whole sector, will do real economic and social damage that will take generations to fix.

The problem isn’t the tech — it’s the tech companies.

The auto industry is changing whether you like it or not. And innovations in the auto industry can be good: good for the environment, good for safety, good for mobility in congested cities, good for transportation equity. 

But it also matters how the innovations come to market. And the risks of concentrating yet another industry in the hands of Big Tech are not theoretical. Saying companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon don’t play fair is a gross understatement: investigations and lawsuits are underway around the world against every single one of them for misleading and anti-competitive business practices. They crush smaller competitors, then mark up their own prices; they bundle the products you need with other products you don’t want; they violate their own privacy policies so they can collect more data about you to use and sell; they promote their own products over those of others.

Over the past 20 years these corporate giants have driven thousands of small companies out of business. Letting them do the same to the U.S. auto and logistics industries would put tens of thousands of American families in economic jeopardy. Remember that almost every physical product sold by the Big Four is made in China, and moving manufacturing abroad gives them a cost advantage that could destabilize or even crush thousands of large and small businesses across the country. 

The free market can’t fix this.

So there are serious implications for your privacy, your freedom, and your pocketbook — and for our economy as a whole — if we continue to let companies like the Big Four throw their weight around in the automotive arena. And even with much of Big Tech’s activity in the auto industry happening out of public view, Americans already understand these developments are dangerous. 

In a national poll conducted in 2022 by Data for Progress, 59% of respondents said that Big Tech’s aggressive moves into the auto industry will be “bad for consumers, workers, and the economy.” 70% think Big Tech’s data collection from drivers is a threat to our privacy, 74% worry about the privacy implications of Google’s self-driving car service Waymo in particular, and a whopping 79% think Congress should pass legislation protecting consumers from invasive data collection.  This is not a partisan issue; there were clear majorities on all these questions across the political spectrum.

But the Big Four are now so big that they can simply crush competition in every market they decide to enter. They buy up the companies they want to; they shut them down at will; they decide what lines of research are worth funding; they use their market power to embed their own technology in the cars you buy, whether you want it or not.

It’s time for the government to step in.

The market can’t stop the Big Four tech companies from taking over the auto industry. But the U.S. government can.

Under President Biden, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission have taken more action to rein in Big Tech power than they did under previous administrations, and for that we are grateful. But what they’ve done so far isn’t enough.

We’re calling on the Federal Trade Commission to take direct regulatory action against the dangerous behavior of Big Tech, specifically in the automotive industry. And we need you to help:

  1. You can use our tool to petition the FTC. You can also contact key legislators in Congress who are involved in privacy, consumer protection, and anti-monopoly regulation, and press them to ensure that the FTC uses the powers delegated to it by Congress.
  2. You can learn more about how big tech money behind the scenes is funding some of the most prominent innovations — and how that money distorts the market and disadvantages competitors. 
  3. And you can sign up for our email list. We’ll keep you informed about everything Big Tech is doing to lock competitors out of the market and rake in profits for themselves from the global automotive transformation.