The Data Google Collects From an Android Car, and Why Some Automakers Are Against It

Custom Android Automotive UI built by Hummer 10 photos
Photo: Hummer
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Unlike rival Apple, Google isn’t working on a full vehicle. The search giant has an entirely different strategy for its automotive expansion, and it all comes down to providing carmakers and drivers with access to software and services behind the wheel.
Android Automotive is Google’s big bet in the long term. It ships as an evolved version of Android Auto and comes with significant improvements, including deeper access of Google services to the vehicle.

Unlike Android Auto, which uses a mobile phone connected to the car to mirror the interface on the dashboard screen, Android Automotive is a fully-featured operating system. It is installed at the hardware level by carmakers, so it replaces the software that Android Auto typically runs on top of the vehicle. This means you can also run Android Auto in an Android Automotive-powered car.

By developing a fully featured car operating system, Google has achieved something that could eventually prove to be more valuable in the long term. The company has access to data, both of the driver and the car, and it can integrate its services better into the driving experience.

As such, Android would be in charge of a bigger part of our lives. It has already conquered the mobile world and our homes with smart devices, and now it’s expanding to cars with Android Automotive. The time people spent behind the wheel was the only place where Android was yet to become a dominant name.

Google is working directly with car manufacturers to bring Android Automotive to their cars, and the strategy is slowly gaining traction. Several big names in the auto industry, including Volvo, Hummer, and General Motors, have already adopted the operating system.

Android Automotive allows carmakers to customize the look and feel of the OS to retain their brand identity. As a result, the interface could look different, but the underlying software is still Android Automotive.

Android Automotive in Polestar 2
Photo: Polestar

Google Automotive Services and their role in Android Automotive

Google’s automotive push doesn’t come down to just Android Automotive. A second component called Google Automotive Services is in charge of providing users with the necessary apps and services in their cars. At the same time, Google Automotive Services are also responsible for providing Google with part of the data it’s so interested in.

Google Automotive Services (GAS) are the auto sibling of Google Mobile Services (GMS). Offered to mobile users as part of the default Android experience, Google Mobile Services bring together a collection of apps and APIs to offer essential functionality on smartphones.

Google has adopted a similar approach on Android Automotive. GAS provides access to proprietary applications, such as Google Assistant and Google Maps, as well as the additional resources to build software aimed at Google’s vehicle operating system.

As the backbone of Android Automotive, GAS is also responsible for collecting essential data from vehicles.

Android Automotive on the 2022 Hummer EV
Photo: Screenshot from GMC Hummer EV channel

The collected data

The easiest way to understand how GAS works is to look at Google Maps. Offered as the native navigation solution on Android Automotive, Google Maps has deep access to vehicle information.

This way, it can provide more advanced functionality than on Android Auto, for instance. Google Maps can read battery information, and as such, it can suggest charging stops when the existing range does not allow the driver to reach a configured destination.

The first data Google Maps collects is related to the vehicle’s GPS location. Because it needs to determine where you are and then follow you on the map, Google Maps finds the GPS location and sends it to Google.

Then, the navigation solution collects navigation details, such as the active route.

Thanks to its deeper integration into the car, it can also read and collect information related to vehicle sensors. For example, it retrieves road details, such as road sign availability and lane markings. This data is typically provided by the onboard cameras that are used for safety features or autonomous driving.

Information from other vehicle sensors is also collected, including when the windshield wipers or the headlights are turned on. Of course, Google Maps also collects data from the mobile device, including barometer readings, and the wheel speed when the connection to the vehicle is detected.

Android Automotive on the 2022 Hummer EV
Photo: Screenshot from GMC Hummer EV channel

Some carmakers just said “no”

Google probably knew from the very beginning that some carmakers might not agree to provide the company with access to so much information. This is likely the reason Android Automotive and GAS are offered as separate components.

As such, carmakers can install Android Automotive in their vehicles without the need for installing GAS. This way, they can still use the operating system but without Google services, eventually avoiding the process of sharing vehicle data with the search giant. There are many reasons for this, and one of them is that tech companies could eventually build their cars and become their rivals in the automotive market.

Stellantis is the best example of how Android Automotive works without GAS. The company adopted the operating system but replaced Google Maps with TomTom navigation and installed Amazon’s Alexa instead of Google Assistant.

This way, the carmaker isn’t sharing any data with Google, eventually maintaining full control over what information leaves its cars.

BMW is aiming for a similar approach, as the company doesn’t want to provide other companies with access to vehicle data. The German carmaker will also replace the Google Play Store with a third-party app store, though it’ll be interesting to see if any Google app, such as Google Maps or Waze, would end up available for download. The first BMW model powered by Android Automotive is projected to see daylight next year, with an announcement to be made later in 2023.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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