Our cars are getting smarter and smarter. You can talk to them now, asking to call a friend by name, it can identify your location and warn you of traffic, and so much more. But have you ever stopped to ask whether it was safe and whether your data was being treated with a respect for privacy?
I write about cars over on my PlanetDave site, so I get to drive quite a few cars with all the bells and whistles. But you don’t need the smartest and most modern vehicles to have one that tracks what you do and reports it to third party services and the vehicle manufacturer! In fact, if you’ve ever paired your phone with your car, you’ve literally given it permission to download every contact in your device, to store in the car’s memory.
The latest cars can also identify potential maintenance issues, even sometimes automatically making an appointment for you at the local service center; think about how that works and you realize that it means these vehicles are tracking everything, analyzing their own performance data, and sharing that information with the service that can automatically schedule your appointment as needed.
Think about traffic data in your favorite mapping app too. According to the research, apps like Google Maps and Wayze are actually tracking the location of millions of smartphones to aggregate and identify real-time traffic patterns. If dozens of phones are identified as being on the Interstate but all going 10mph, you’ll get a yellow or even a red zone. Are cars also reporting this information?
Some cars also gamify driving so you get an assessment and driving score at the end of each jaunt. I really like those because they help you learn how to drive in the most fuel efficient way possible, but these drive reports are also being uploaded to the manufacturers for data analysis too. Does your car have a wifi hotspot? Think about how that makes it even more obvious that the car is online all the time.
In May 2023, Toyota admitted to a cloud data breach that exposed vehicular location history and information of over 2.1 million drivers, from November 2013, to April 2023. Tesla has also been in the news more than once for the volume of data their vehicles collect, including video footage of what’s happening in the cabin of the vehicle. Even steamy activities!
Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post, observes that “Modern vehicles don’t just have one computer. There are multiple, interconnected brains that can generate up to 25 gigabytes of data per hour from sensors all over the car.” Experts say that cars will increasingly become a device and platform to allow the collection and development of insights on consumers, no different than laptop and smartphones, just much more insidious and hard to avoid.
The problem is that it’s unclear what happens if you were to opt out of all these features and capabilities. Can you buy a smartcar and change its settings so it’s less smart, or quite a bit less smart? Car companies compete for our transportation dollars with their suite of smart safety features and options. It’s not a big jump to imagine that at some point in the future, we won’t be able to opt out because The Government or The Car Manufacturer will have decided that privacy isn’t as important as the safety of everyone else on the road.
If you are utilizing your car’s Wi-Fi hotspot, for example, are you using a Virtual Private Network to mask the sites you visit and your online activities? VPNs “create a secure tunnel for your data, shielding it from prying eyes. It also adds an extra layer of protection, making it significantly more challenging for any potential eavesdroppers to intercept your online activities.”
Oh, one more thing to consider: A couple of years ago, Ford Motor Company filed a patent for technology that will display advertisements directly in your car. Via the camera system, data from roadside billboards will be collected and displayed on an in-vehicle infotainment system. Are you ready for that? I’m not.
Tip: I’ve written a lot of fun and interesting tech articles here on my site. Please check out my Tech Help Library to see what’s available for your education and edification. And be thoughtful about what you enable on your shiny new car too.