Your car is spying on you
Are you being stalked behind the wheel? Here's how to tell and what you can do about it.
Big Brother is always watching. That's what we've come to believe, at least in our online lives where our personal viewing habits are tracked and used by advertisers to try to sell us stuff.
But shutting down your computer and other electronic devices allows for a little private time, right? Well, not necessarily. Not if you're driving in your car.
Let's take a look at some of the ways your car may be spying on you.
Nowadays, most new cars have an electronic data recorder, which notes what your car's sensors are picking up about your speed, braking and other factors like use of safety equipment in the event of a crash. In essence, the EDR is your vehicle's black box, recording what transpired in your car's systems in the seconds before and during a crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says, "EDRs do not collect any personal identifying information or record conversations and do not run continuously."
While the data can be used to improve car safety, a recent article in Consumer Reports magazine also said:
Still, there is concern about the accuracy of the data, who owns it, and how it's being used. The NHTSA says that it considers the information the property of the vehicle owner, and automakers say that the data is accessed only with the owner’s consent.
However, only 14 states actually have laws to protect the privacy of EDR information, CR says.
Remote connection services, such as GM’s OnStar, Ford Sync and Chrysler UConnect, come with an array of benefits, like navigation services, vehicle tracking, roadside dispatch and assistance in the event of an emergency, diagnostic checks and remote updates.
But does it come at the expense of the driver's privacy? Consumer Reports wrote:
Though EDRs capture only a few seconds of data, telematics systems provide a regular stream about a car’s location and other parameters. And it's not clear what data is collected and what is done with it. Even automakers don’t seem sure about the best ways to use it.
Portable and mobile navigation devices
When you're uncertain about the route to a particular destination, it's second nature to power up the GPS on your dash or smartphone. While they definitely save time, your location information is being transmitted in order for it to work.
This transmission of data by GPS devices and telematics systems has prompted privacy concerns and has the attention of Congress.
At the behest of Congress, the Government Accountability Office audited privacy practices for 10 providers of navigation or telematics services in 2013: the Detroit Three, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, portable navigation providers Garmin and TomTom, and smartphone navigation developers Google Maps and Telenav. GAO interviewed privacy advocates, investigated exactly what those companies do with your information and compared it to industrywide best practices for privacy protection.
In a 32-page December 2013 report to Congress posted on Jan. 6, GAO found the providers fall well short of those practices.
Check out the blog post and the report for more details about the type of information that’s shared about your driving by these companies. Kicking Tires noted that the companies are acting legally and that no federal law governs these practices.
Auto insurance companies have made it easier to save on car insurance. But there's a catch: That discount of up to 30 percent could cost you privacy behind the wheel. Many of the leading car insurers, such as Progressive, State Farm and Allstate, provide a device that plugs into your car and records information like how fast you drive, how hard you brake and when you're on the road. It's called pay-as-you-go or usage-based insurance.
It's also the source of privacy concerns. Ron Lieber of The New York Times wrote:
But usage-based insurance, as the program is known, generates vast amounts of data. While insurance companies are pledging to keep it to themselves for now, some experts believe that we're only a few years away from companies’ contributing complete driver histories into a central industry database. Then, we'd all have driver scores like the numbers that FICO helps creditors calculate, which would follow us around whenever we shopped for a new auto insurance policy.
Lieber also noted that some insurance companies would like to start tracking where you drive.
Ways to protect yourself
Consumer Reports has some recommendations to protect your privacy, including:
- Keep a low profile. "Don't share self-identifying information such as your Facebook status or publicize your location on social media. Also, don’t store an address labeled 'home' in a navigation system; instead, store the address of a public place."
- Use your vehicle's phone system with caution. "Don't download contacts to the car's phone system, and turn off the phone’s Bluetooth connection to the car when you exit," CR says.
- Skip automated tolls if you can.
- Turn off your cellphone and remove the battery. Even if the phone is off, location data is still being transmitted, CR says.
- Take your portable GPS with you. And if you sell a car with GPS, make sure your old data is no longer stored in the device.
What are your thoughts on these privacy issues? Are you concerned?
Karen Datko contributed to this post.
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