Should we put the brakes on the car?

Tracking has just become a huge bogeyman. The amount of data that an app or an operating system (OS) can use to identify you and collect your data is huge, depending on the tracking method it uses. While it’s clear why manufacturers and marketers want more data — to customize their products, improve efficiency, attract consumers, increase sales, and fuel innovation — there’s always something hidden. cost – our privacy.

Some argue that tracking is a necessary trade-off for some services to remain free. Recently, Meta launched a paid option for Facebook and Instagram in the European Union, designed to avoid unnecessary data tracking in favor of a paid subscription that limits data collection.

But why are there such concerns? Well, the amount of personal data companies get can be huge, with many companies marketing it literally selling this data to other parties and dealers.

Related: Privacy of fitness tracking apps in spotlight after soldiers’ exercise routes shared online

Turning our attention to cars, we recognize their important role in our lives, which enable us to travel long distances with ease and open new jobs and social opportunities, with electric car that offers an additional advantage in environmental sustainability. Traditionally, the agreement with car dealers is straightforward: The purchase price includes all the car’s equipment; however, car manufacturers decided to do something completely different. Some now offer subscriptionssimilar to smartphone or PC apps, except in this case, we pay for a service that is usually included in the price of the car, such as preinstalled equipment.

For example, when BMW chose to offer heated seats as a subscription option – a feature that was already installed but disabled until activated by payment – there was significant pushback from consumers. Which brings the company to reject this plan.

All the while, your car is also doing something else: tracking your behavior. And it should be clear to you why. It’s about sweet data and usage metrics.

How to track you in your car

Modern cars can be very capable. Some have screens around the interior with different functions and quirks, LED lighting, and more connectivity features.

Their infotainment screens are powered by chips similar to those inside your computers or smartphones, except made more durable than powerful because of the way cars are used – they suffer more wear and tear, heat and cold, etc. These chips can and do have the same capabilities as smartphones (in addition to being powered by features such as Android Auto or Apple CarPlay), meaning that apart from allowing you to open your glovebox (literally), they also provide you with GPS navigation, internet access, music and movie streaming, calls, or even gaming on the go (try not to play on your daily commute, please).

The interior of a modern car with a large tablet like infotainment in the middle
Some car infotainment screens can look like actual tablets.
(Credit: Jenny Ueberberg on Unsplash)

Similar to how your phone monitors your app usage and your apps track what songs you play, how long you use them, and what gets your attention longer, the operating system so is your car. Includes the times and destinations of each trip you make. Depending on the vendor’s privacy policy, this information potentially accessible to companies and individuals you may not have allowed to track your movements. Without express consent, this continuous monitoring puts your privacy at risk.

Most car owners probably have no idea about how much data a car collects from them. According to a study by The Washington Postthe car manufacture it tested produced up to 25 gigabytes of data every hour, including phone records, driving style, etc., and sends all the data back to the manufacturer. Compare that to Spotifywhich, in general, can use 144 megabytes per hour. The difference is amazing.

The Washington Post even purchased a secondhand navigation system of the same make and discovered that it was able to re-use the previous owner by examining the system’s logged data, learning their home and work address, regular gas pump, etc. This is remarkably similar to a discovery made by ESET Research on purchased secondhand routers, which still hide confidential data.

Do the ends justify the means?

Connected cars do a lot of things well. They improve safety by notifying you of traffic accidents and giving different alerts, such as reminding you to get an oil change, and they also help you find them if they are stolen, thanks to location information they may share. Car cameras and sensors also help you manage difficult driving conditions, which is very useful.

Smart car data can also be sent to other parties, many of whom use it fraud preventionaccident analysis, better insurance ratesor even plan the route and path through city ​​planners.

But all this comes with the caveat of significant invasion of privacy. Even if the collected data is anonymized, as confirmed by the Washington Post study, it can still be used to recreate the driver’s profile, similar to browser fingerprinting, which uses various general data to improve website experiences. Vehicle data tracking works on a similar principle, but it also comes at a cost – the price of personal privacy.

All personal data in the car is ripe for the taking

Besides the obvious privacy angle of data tracking, there is also the concern of cybersecurity. Since the data collected will also be stored in the car’s storage medium, in addition to being shared with the manufacturer and others, it will open the car owner to a potential data breach or data leak.

How? Well, it’s no secret that many manufacturers can become victims of hacking, leaking of data. Personal data, such as names, emails, destinations, etc., be part of these leaksgiving hackers more ammo to sell this information to other fraudsters or to try to hack other people’s accounts using the leaked information.

A smartphone in a car running a smart car app on it
Cars are now a treasure trove of data, just like phones.
(Credit: Tero Vesalainen/

The cars themselves can also be hacked; therefore, hackers can reveal their location, open their doors, learn more about their owners, steal stored financial information, or access other devices on the Internet of Things, which lead to all kinds of incidents. There is a famous example of both Hackers remotely control an SUV after it was exploited, showing that with the right vulnerability, vehicles and their passengers could be in great danger.

Any potentially useful data is ripe for the taking, and this brings the conversation back to privacy, because, according to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the possibility of data breaches is minimized by encrypting personal data. However, the data collected and stored in connected cars usually not encrypted at alland in the US in particular, there are no laws requiring data anonymization or encryption, with some companies strictly in the business of selling that data to governmentsfor example.

What can you do about vehicle tracking data?

It becomes more difficult to buy a car that is not connected in some way, which is the best option.

While car manufacturers are legally responsible for protecting your personal data, incidents can still happen. If a car system uses some form of encryption or a VPN, perhaps a security chip, more can be done to ensure the security of the collected data, but not all brands use such a practice .

From the owner’s perspective, factory reset the in-car system before selling it is an obvious way to clean private data. Also, one can ask a car service shop wipe all data from the car, because sometimes a factory reset is not enough. In addition, after renting a car, disconnect your phone and delete all data related to use before it is returned.

Go one step further, too not connect their phone to their carbut what is the point of having all those modern features?

To close, without proper knowledge and accountability of manufacturers, your personal data will be at risk, and as far as privacy is concerned, the fight for more protection must be ensured. Without that, no one can be free from some kind of tracking. Your data is you, so try to fight for its safety the same way you fight for your most personal belongings.

Before you go: Connected cars: How to improve their cybersecurity connection

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