Personal Data Security in Connected Cars: Your Vehicle is Watching You
For many people with busy lives, careers, families and obligations that fill our days, the time spent commuting in our cars may be the only minutes of the day we ever get a little solitude and privacy.
But how private are our cars these days, really?
A car used to be just a car, but not anymore. As modern vehicles become rolling computers loaded with surveillance devices, personal data security in your car is something to think about.
Connected cars can track phone calls and texts, log queries to websites, record where you go and when you go there, how long you stayed, what route you took, and even monitor your driving; they can tell if you brake suddenly, accelerate rapidly, if your seatbelt is fastened, and if you are speeding.
Newer cars may record a driver’s eye movements, the weight of people in the front seats and whether the driver’s hands are on the wheel. Smartphones connected to the car also track your activities, including any texting while driving.
Cars will only continue their evolution as they become more and more autonomous. That means they will continue to collect increasing amounts of data on you, including what your car’s video cameras see as you travel down a street. And many states are also moving to electronic toll collection; toll booths are vanishing, replaced by overhead devices that read a transponder in your vehicle and automatically charge the applicable toll, and incidentally, track your whereabouts. You can’t even opt out of this one; if you don’t have a transponder these systems take your picture, track you down through your license plate and send you a bill.
Who Owns the Data Recorded in Connected Cars?
Typically, a driver agrees to all this tracking and monitoring (except tolls, which are not optional) by checking off a box on one of the user agreement forms needed to register a car’s in-dash system or a navigation app. In most cases, the driver must also agree to such terms to use an app or service.
There are also many cases where drivers may choose to trade their privacy to get a benefit. Live traffic services like Inrix and Waze can save hours of windshield time in traffic in exchange for sharing location and speed information. There are companies that offer connected car services, like car diagnostics. And insurance companies may offer lower rates for well-mannered drivers who share driving information via electronic devices.
But who owns all this data? Automakers, for the most part, but retailers, insurers, government agencies, tech companies and others are all eager to obtain and leverage this information.
Tech experts have noted that as we move more toward the Internet of Things (IoT), technology is outstripping our ability to manage or secure our data. Government rules limit how event data recorders, the black boxes in cars that record information such as speed and seatbelt position in the seconds before, during and after a crash, can be used but other than that there are few rules or laws in the United States that govern what data can be collected and used by companies (medical information excepted).
Personal Data Security: Being Aware and Managing Risk
Potential threats to personal privacy and security have grown significantly. Our online and social media activity is tracked, connected devices in our home offer vulnerabilities, and our activities at work offer no privacy. Folks understand that, and can actually manage some of these privacy risks to a degree.
But step out your front door and get in your car and all bets are off; you have no control over what is tracked and monitored if you are in a modern vehicle. And it may not be clear that any benefits to individuals outweigh that loss of privacy.
The takeaway from all this? If you are concerned about privacy, you are already taking whatever steps you can to manage data about yourself. Just be aware that your car collects a lot more information about you than you may have known. It’s probably the least private place you can be these days, and you have almost no control over any information it collects, who gets it, or how its used.
There is one important safeguard you should be sure to take: when you trade in a car or turn one in at the end of a lease, make sure you remove or reset all connected devices and wipe your personal information from the outgoing car. Reset the vehicle’s phone book and call history, wipe driving history from navigation devices, and clear the garage-door opener. And check any manufacturers requirements about notification; some manufacturers require you to notify them of a change in ownership. Your owner’s manual should help with all this, or see the dealer for help.