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Blog > Internet Privacy > Guard Your Privacy: Know the Risks of Car Data Records
 September 24, 2020

Guard Your Privacy: Know the Risks of Car Data Records

Person holding a smartphone inside a vehicle. The phone screen reads, "Connecting Device, Please Wait."

You know that shiny new car that’s been calling your name lately? It may become irresistible soon in this era of low-interest rates and few personal rewards, but the technological marvel you have your eye on could spy on you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Just like your phone and other smart devices, newer vehicles have smart features designed to make your life easier. But what do these connected cars track? Locations you visit, driving speed, jackrabbit acceleration, that 2 a.m. drive the night you couldn’t sleep. What could possibly go wrong? With high-tech features like these, the answer is often a great deal.

New car desire

Have you driven a new car recently? Did all the latest safety features impress you? Lights and chimes warn you when the car lane drifts. The navigation screen can display speed limits adjacent to your rate of speed. Blind spot alerts can prevent accidents. Accident alert and assistance service have many benefitsjust realize that these gadgets document your every move.

All this data has to be stored somewhere. However, some data you might not want to share with the world. Event Data Recorders (EDR)now found on most car models to function as a personal black box – can detect airbag deployment and lesser accidents. EDRs also monitor seat belt usage, tire pressure and crash severity. For non-deployment accidents, the data lingers for several weeks, but if your airbag triggers, it’s stored longer.

The carmaker has a vested interest in collecting information for many uses, including performance and defect detection. Will they sell that data to marketing firms or accessory developers?  You should read the vehicle’s privacy policy. Ask whether the car stores data in an encrypted state or plain text.

This brave new world of high-tech cars delivers details that can put your privacy at risk.  Scientists are intrigued, too, as they study ways to tap historical location data to predict where you will go next.

Used parts recirculate

Used computer parts turn up on various resale sites. Some computer-based toys like media control units have popped up for sale still populated with the former owner’s call logs, messages and more. Resold autopilot modules could still contain data left over from previous users such as passwords, calendar events, email address, and old phone logs. Just like with any computer, deleting data may not fully remove your information from the hard drive, leaving the info to be discovered by future owners.

Sales and trade-ins

EDRs have been around for many years. That older model you hope to trade could have one you might not know exists. But don’t trust the dealer to remove stored info for you; the incentive to protect your data is yours alone, so do it yourself.


Rental vehicles come with many safety features like blind-spot warnings. If you usually drive a 10-year-old model, these functions can be captivating. You may not know how to use all of the features, but you’ll be tempted to connect your smartphone to the rental to enjoy Bluetooth phone connectivity.

Perhaps these features need a yellow caution warning. The Federal Trade Commission warns that phone connections to a rental vehicle could give your rental car access to all your phone numbers, contact data and even text messages. Even garage door opener codes can be captured along with your home address. Yikes!

Expect to be asked for permission to access contacts or texts, and think twice before checking OK. Do you need the vehicle to copy all your contact data for a weekend getaway? Unless you erase all that info when dropping off the car, your details can fall into the hands of future renters, company employees and hackers. Ask for instructions on how to erase data before you drive off the rental lot, and don’t forget to do so when you drop it off.

Wipe it all

Today’s computers on wheels present a host of challenges. Treat them just the same as a smartphone or tablet. Don’t get sucked into emerging auto technology without a thought to privacy and security.

Here are a few simple steps regarding data removal:

  • If your car is totaled, make sure the EDR stays with you or wipe all the data when your wreck heads to a junkyard.
  • If litigation is likely, ask your attorney what data to preserve.
  • When you sell a vehicle, wipe the records entirely.
  • Change key passwords if you accidentally let the data escape before a wipe.
  • Investigate how the data is stored. Risk is reduced if the manufacturer encrypted it.
  • Ask about opting out when it comes to data collection. However, with some manufacturers, this election could mean difficulty or lag time downloading software updates or using other features.

So far, there is little legal protection for vehicle data or laws that stipulate who owns it. In 2017, the General Accounting Office (GAO) urged lawmakers and regulators to take up the car data issue. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced legislation in Congress dubbed the Security and Privacy (SPY) Car Act of 2019. The duo is prodding Congress to address automobile data collection in addition to the risk of cyber hacking and remote vehicle takeover.

But you’re not on your own when it comes to protecting your private data. If your vehicle data does fall into the wrong hands, IDShield offers one-on-one consultation for any identity-related matter and our specialists can help you understand how to protect your privacy online.

IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. For complete terms, coverage and conditions, please see an identity theft plan.  All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.


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