There was a popular bumper sticker that advised what not to do, “When this rig’s rocking, ….” If you have a modern, technologically advanced car or pickup, have you read the fine print in the paperwork? For example, if you own a Nissan, the company says it may collect information on your “sexual activity,” while Kia puts it more delicately, suggesting it may know about your “sex life.” Yes, your rig may indeed be invading your privacy.
Your car knows—and shares—your personal information
Even if you feel you’re long since past trysts in the back seat, there’s a lot more your car or truck may know—and share about you. Think for just a minute. Many of today’s modern technology cars are equipped with cameras—not just on the back bumper, but inside too. And microphones? Do they conveniently shut themselves off, and only turn on to hear a voice command? And while your parents may have demanded to know where you’ve been in the old ’57 Chevy, that 2022 GMC may already know it—and be telling corporate just where that was.
These terrifying ideas of how our vehicles could be ratting us out come from a report released earlier this month by the Mozilla Foundation. The study group looked at 25 car brands which utilize technology common in recent production years. Their conclusion? “All 25 car brands we researched earned our *Privacy Not Included warning label — making cars the official worst category of products for privacy that we have ever reviewed.”
What do they do with that information?
How are these vehicles invading your privacy? All 25 brands played loose and fast with the amount of personal data their systems collected. While some information does need to be collected to appropriately operate car systems, each maker “collects more personal data than necessary and uses that information for a reason other than to operate your vehicle and manage their relationship with you.” What kind of information? How you and your car interact. What “connected services” you use, and even touch bases with your phone. And they can also get information about you from other sources. Think of what you’ve looked up on Google Maps, or listened to on satellite radio.
When it comes to invading your privacy, would you like to share things like where you drive, and how fast you get there? We already mentioned that some companies collect information related to how your car might be used for sex. Some even can collect genetic information.
Your information—given away or sold
If it’s not bad enough to have that information wrested away from you, what gets done with that info is where things get scarier. There’s no doubt that car companies want you to buy more of their products, so their own internal marketing comes into play. But here’s a facer from the report: “Most (84%) of the car brands we researched say they can share your personal data—with service providers, data brokers, and other businesses we know little or nothing about.” More than three-quarters of car makers say they’ll sell your personal information. One other concern—more than half will give away your personal data to law enforcement, simply on request. Re-read that. “On request.” Not, “under court order,” but simply by an informal request.
Is there any way to work against your car invading your privacy? Well, if you own a Renault or Dacia, you can request your personal data be wiped out. But that’s only two out of 25 car makers—oddly, both market in Europe where privacy standards meet a high bar. If you own any of the other 23 brands, you’re up the creek.
And what about hackers?
If it weren’t bad enough having your personal information freely available to your car maker, and whoever they share (or sell) it with, the Mozilla researchers also made some other concerning finds. The report reads, “Even though the car brands we researched each had several long-winded privacy policies (Toyota wins with 12), we couldn’t find confirmation that any of the brands meet our Minimum Security Standards.”
Translated: Do any of these cars encrypt your private data? Don’t know. When Mozilla’s team contacted the makers for clarification, most didn’t even respond. Three did respond—sort of. Ford, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz replied, but didn’t give complete answers. The team dug deeper, and went back over three years worth of data and found nearly 70% of brands had suffered hacking, leaks, and other breaches that could have meant a loss of car owner privacy.
Individual brand information—all the fine print and more
Since you can’t, for the most part, get car makers to delete your personal information, there are a few things you can do to at least try to stem the outward flow of information. Mozilla’s researchers have included steps for each vehicle brand in their brand-by-brand evaluation. It’s an interesting read—you’ll be able to learn just how your brand is invading your privacy. Here are links to that information.
At least this one doesn’t invade your privacy
Bottom line: If your car or truck is equipped with technology, it’s pretty likely it’s invading your privacy. It may be that the only safe drive down the highway today is with a horse and buggy. Just make sure it isn’t a Trojan horse.