In addition to addressing criticism relating to a fatal crash involving an Uber self-driving car, companies developing autonomous cars must deal with the fallout from the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and assure the public that future self-driving cars won't be data-mining machines. In an interview with The Telegraph, Waymo CEO John Krafick declared emphatically that his company has no "master plan" to harvest user data for nefarious purposes.
"To the core of my body, I swear on my father's grave, it's not a priority," Krafcik said of data harvesting. "I'm not saying it won't be a work stream in the future but at the moment it is not in our workspace." When pressed, Krafcik said the amount of work currently being done at Waymo on data harvesting is "zero, a big zero."
Krafcik made these comments at the 2018 New York Auto Show, shortly after Waymo announced plans to launch a commercial ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona by the end of the year. Waymo will also bulk up its fleet with up to 20,000 Jaguar I-Pace electric SUVs.
Getting a large-scale ride-hailing service up and running will be a major challenge, but once the service is running smoothly, it's still possible that Waymo will look to data mining to increase revenue. Self-driving cars will improve the economics of ride-hailing by eliminating the cost of human drivers, but Uber's finances have shown that merely driving people from place to place offers limited opportunity for profit.
Just as tech companies that provide free services like, say, social networking harvest user data to generate more profit, Waymo and other companies could do the same with ride-hailing users. At the very least, companies may use data to create advertisements and other in-car digital content for the captive audience that is ride-hailing passengers.