Warning, Your Car May Be Invading Your Privacy In Harlem, Hoboken, And Harare

September 11, 2023

Here’s a trivia question you can stump some folks with: What consumer product is the worst privacy nightmare?

Is it…

  1. Social media
  2. Cars
  3. Apps
  4. Video doorbells

Well, it’s not Facebook – even though it’s certainly been regaled as the belle of the ball. And it’s not apps, despite some creeping over the line of sensibility in the realms of pregnancy, mental health, and praying. And, it’s not one of the FTC’s least favorite guardians of privacy, video doorbells, either.

So that leaves, yes… Cars!

The Mozilla Foundations latest “*Privacy Not Included” lays that crown at the feet of all 25 car brands it researched and dubbing that segment as “the official worst category of products for privacy that [it has] ever reviewed.”

“Car makers have been bragging about their cars being ‘computers on wheels’ for years to promote their advanced features. However, the conversation about what driving a computer means for its occupants’ privacy hasn’t really caught up,” the researchers claim.

We may depend on our cars and trucks to get us from point A to point B, but the automakers are depending on us to feed their little data-gobbling machines. And what the Mozilla researchers uncovered is pedal-to-the-metal kind of scary. 

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They collect too much personal data (all of them). You provide personal information to them by interacting with all sorts of things in your car. Everything from using the car’s app (which provides access to your phone’s information) to third party sources like Sirius XM or Google Maps.

Most (84%) share or (76%) sell your data. Your data may go to service providers, data brokers, and believe it or not, a surprising number (56%) also say they can share your information with the government or law enforcement in response to a “request.” 

Most (92%) give drivers little to no control over their personal data. Sorry, all but two of the 25 car brands Mozilla reviewed earned its “ding” for data control, meaning only two car brands, Renault and Dacia, say that all drivers have the right to have their personal data deleted. 

Get lucky in Kentucky, but not in a Nissan or a Kia

Nissan and Kia did themselves no favors in Mozilla’s study, earning a spot near the bottom for gathering some of the creepiest data any company has ever sought out. You should read the review in full, but Nissan collects data about your “sexual activity.” 

This’ll probably make you laugh, but the Mozilla researchers discovered that Nissan’s privacy policy says you, the car owner, actually gave them permission to collect data about your sexual activities when you agreed to the NissanConnect Terms of Service. But the most hilarious thing is that you agree to promise to tell anyone who’s riding in your car that Nissan can and will collect their data when they’re in your car

Not to be outdone, Kia also mentions in its U.S. Privacy Policy that it “may” collect information about your “sex life or sexual orientation information,” but also information about your “medical condition, physical or mental disability,” “racial or ethnic origin,” and “religious or philosophical beliefs,” collect the contents of certain emails and texts. 

Tips to protect yourself

As you can imagine, fiddling with a car’s electronics to keep your private information safe is complicated. Mozilla’s team went all out to find the little things that you can do to not only protect yourself for the time being – but more importantly, after you sell the car and your personal information is still hanging around in that car’s components.

Here are some of those tips: 

  • Before selling or trading your car, wipe your data clean. Disconnect the app and make sure to notify the company.
  • When connecting a mobile app to the car, make sure to minimize the amount of data collected through this app. You can use iOS or Android settings to limit the data collected through your phone.
  • Do not use Amazon Alexa in your car if you are concerned about Amazon collecting voice request information, IP address, and geolocation information and using it to target you with advertising.

Want to help try and stop this?

What you’ve read so far barely scratches the surface. But, the Mozilla Foundation team says if you’re bugged in the least about this assault on your privacy, it’s collecting signatures for a petition it hopes is so large that it chokes the mailboxes of these overarching automakers.

“Our hope is that increasing awareness will encourage others to hold car companies accountable for their terrible privacy practices too. On behalf of the Mozilla community, we’re asking car companies to stop their huge data collection programs that only benefit them,” the researchers said.

Consumer Affairs continues that if you want to add your name to Mozilla’s petition, it takes all of 10 seconds at this webpage.

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