Retail Front

Give Jim Farley a Break

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The Ford executive’s playful we-know-who-you-are comments pale in comparison to the misuse of collected data elsewhere.

When Shakespeare wrote “Much Ado about Nothing,” he could have been referring to the feigned outrage following Jim Farley’s remarks recently at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Let me preface that Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief, is my friend and one of my personal marketing heroes in our industry. Fortunately or unfortunately, he has more personality and a better sense of humor than 99% of the auto executives we deal with regularly.

When he loosens up and says what’s on his mind, he usually assumes he is in the company of friendly people who are in tune with his cordiality. In other words, you can dress him up but you can’t take him anywhere.

In chatting with the media, he may assume he is dealing with people who get what he is about, opposed to swimming in a pool of piranhas looking for sound bites and key phrases, in or out of context.

Okay, here’s a piece of what he said: “We have so much data about customers that we are not using. By the way, we know everyone who breaks the law. We know exactly when you do it because we have a GPS sensor in your car. We know where you are and how fast you’re driving.”

As they say, that’s when the fit hit the shan.

He went on to say, “By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.” That should have been the end of it. But instead, an innocent and playful remark was taken out of context and vilified.

In a later interview, in a state of obvious damage control, Farley told an interviewer: “I absolutely left the wrong impression about how Ford operates. We do not track our customers in their cars without their approval or their consent.”

He added: “The statement I made in my eyes was hypothetical and I want to clear this up.”

The timing couldn’t be worse. U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) is demanding an investigation of driver privacy following a government report claiming that a number of automakers are collecting data on consumers through onboard navigation and GPS systems.

Not just Ford, but virtually all manufacturers can track their customers’ locations, driving habits and more.

The rumors about OnStar have been out there for a long time. We’ve all heard it said or insinuated that perhaps, OnStar could be tapped by law enforcement to potentially review conversations and vehicle data.

I am assuming this would require a warrant or a court order compelling OnStar to cooperate, but it still unnerves many people.

I have long been an advocate of controlling who gathers customer data and what it is used for. I’d be more concerned about what private companies like Garmin,  TomTom, Google Maps and Telenav are doing with customer information.

We have vendors rooting through dealer management systems doing things with customer data and violating every trust and promise we made when we sold people cars.

Dataium, the super data-aggregator, just settled with the state of New Jersey for $400,000 for allegedly reselling consumer identifiable information which I assume they collected from customer forms filled out on third-party, lead-provider and dealer websites and perhaps garnered from DMS units.

The Wall Street Journal published an article headlined “How Dataium Watches You.”

It said:  “If you’ve shopped for a car online on Cars.com or other automotive websites recently, there’s a good chance Dataium LLC was watching most of your mouse-clicks.”

According to the Journal article they were recording consumer information such as name, email address, and phone number that were entered in dealer-contact forms.

With that being said, where is the justified outrage in the press and with your dealer organizations.

Data piracy is running rampant, right out in the open, and our customers are being victimized and jeopardized by third parties who are collecting, aggregating, data sniffing, and reselling personal information on the data market.

So get off of Farley’s back for a few random statements. If we continue to turn a blind eye to the underhanded activities of others, don’t worry about an automaker who may be building a customer activity profile to benefit consumers.

Maybe it’s time we had a conversation with Senator Al Franken about what he really should be investigating.

Jim Ziegler is president of Ziegler Supersystems as well as a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues. He can be reached at zieglerss@aol.com. WardsAuto readers also may comment on this article by logging in or registering below.

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Blogs about automotive retailing, commenting on news impacting the business of selling vehicles.

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Steve Finlay

Steve Finlay is the editor of WardsAuto Dealer Business magazine and a senior editor for WardsAuto.com. His journalism career started 42 years ago as a crime reporter. A Michigan native, he likes...

Jim Ziegler

Jim Ziegler, president of Ziegler Supersystems, is a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues.
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