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by James Ward

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This month I took a leap forward into the digital age — I joined Twitter.

I know, I know – Welcome to 2009!

No, this isn’t some #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) thing, nor do I feel the urge to relentlessly tweet about my food.

We talk a lot about the future of the connected car here at CarAdvice, along with looking at what cars are doing today and what they might be doing tomorrow. I’ve taken a technology gamble and hedged bets on us seeing Twitter used in new and valuable ways in the not too distant future.

Ignoring celebrities and gossip for a moment, let’s remember why Twitter works as a communication tool.

It provides real time, succinct messages to a specific audience. That audience can be large — like Kim Kardashian’s 28.8 million followers — or it could be specifically targeted to a single recipient.

BMW currently allows you to ‘tweet’ updates about your location or questionable music choice through the ConnectedDrive service (although in Australia, you have to be stationary). This is a user-initiated process — giving an important organic layer of protection from sharing your listening habits with the world.

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Mercedes-Benz, Mazda and Audi also allow your car to ‘read’ tweets and updates as they come in. These are fun — but not all that useful — uses for the social networking service.

But what if your car had a set of parameters that if met would broadcast a message for you?

Imagine a scenario where you are out for a drive and accidentally run over a nail, receiving a flat tyre. Your car, through the tyre pressure monitoring system, will notice the sudden drop in pressure and issue an alert — both to the driver and to your vehicle’s roadside assist service using Twitter.

Twitter has the ability to use geo-location and image data to make tweets more relevant. Bad if you are hiding in a cave in northern Iraq, but handy if you need to pinpoint exactly where on the M1 you’ve come to a grinding halt. Roadside assist can broadcast to tyre suppliers in your immediate area, who can in turn respond to your initial tweet with an ETA on a technician heading out to get you back on your way.

This can all happen before you even get out of the car.

The 140-character message can include diagnostic codes, GPS coordinates and even trip data.

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What if each time you turned off the ignition, the car tweeted you a private message noting your trip data, fuel economy, even remaining fuel in the tank? Better yet, how about setting a geo-fence on a car that would broadcast a message any time it entered, or left a specific area.

Sounds great, yes? Well not entirely.

If your car is capable of tweeting and sending messages to you, it’s capable of sending messages somewhere else.

Who’s to say that your car doesn’t drop a note to head office if you rev too high before the engine is warm, or take it to a race track or even exceed a certain speed. What if a future warranty claim is denied because you chose to give it a squirt down the quarter mile at a WSID ‘run what you brung’ night?

It’s your car, sure – but whose data is it?

If your car is going to talk – it needs a data connection. For a nation of forward thinkers and early adopters, our mobile data is one of the most expensive in the world. For years, mainstream automotive telemetry services like BMW Connect were not available in Australia due to indecision by manufacturers on data services provision – largely due to this cost.

To get around this, most vehicles vehicles used your own phone data connection but now BMW and Audi for example use a SIM card inside the car. Making that all important data link something that is essentially owned by the manufacturer.

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So if your car uses a ‘provided’ connection to send information, what protection do you have about how the data is used?

In recent weeks the data security holes in automotive systems have been drawn into the spotlight with a report published by US Senator Edward Markey. The report, “Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk”, highlights not only data privacy concerns and the potential for vehicle ‘hacks’ but largely the inability of auto manufacturers to effectively deal with a large scale cyber threat.

Can your car be compromised through 140-characters or less?

Probably not, but at least if your car is using a 3rd party system like Twitter, and not a proprietary one developed by the manufacturer, it can benefit from substantially more dedication to performance and security from Twitter itself.

Twitter’s growth has slowed somewhat from the ‘boom’ times of 2011, but there are still some 650-million tweets sent per day. And while the ‘social’ side of the app may seem a bit silly, the real-time news and information reporting in times of crisis or emergency, see it lauded as one of the great communication breakthroughs of recent times.

To leverage this in the automotive arena is a big opportunity space — not just for users, but Twitter as a whole.

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It wouldn’t be the first time a product has seen its end use change from the intended — Viagra was originally developed as a treatment for the symptoms of angina, and well…turns out it was also good at something else. #YOLO right?

We’ll be keeping an eye on all automotive connected technologies, particularly ones that migrate from your smartphone to your dashboard, as they improve and become more prevalent.

We are still quite a way from the truly Connected Car — but it is coming.

So now that Chris Hemsworth and I are officially part of the Twitterverse — you can follow me at @ca_jamesward to stay up to date on the goings on at CarAdvice and even make your life richer by learning what I eat for breakfast every day.

#LOL

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Oh, the other CarAdvice staffers are also on Twitter, you can find them here:

Alborz Fallah — @AlborzFallah

Matt Campbell — @Mattcandrive

Paul Maric — @PaulMaric

David Zalstein — @DavidZalstein

Daniel DeGasperi — @DanDeGasperi

Tegan Lawson — @TeganLawson

Tim Beissmann — @timbeissmann

Mike Costello – @costellomikej






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