New Study Details Disturbing Reasons That Modern Cars Are a ‘Privacy Nightmare on Wheels’

The technology in modern cars allows for some incredibly cool and convenient features. They’re essentially four-wheeled extensions of smartphones. As wonderful as it is to start a vehicle with a phone app or have it self-park, there’s a flip side to it all.

A flip side recently dubbed “a privacy nightmare on wheels” in a new study from the Mozilla Foundation. Modern vehicles can gather just as much data about their drivers as their phones, meaning any car built within the last decade can tell automakers everything about their customers through their data.

Privacy Is a Relic of The Past.

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Many people relish having a vehicle with a backup camera, and while they certainly make parking less difficult – they’re also detrimental to driver privacy. Mozilla’s study cited external-facing cameras as a significant privacy concern. Tesla, everyone’s favorite polarizing car company, did not fare well in Mozilla’s security concerns study. Their track record makes that unsurprising, though, like an obvious plot twist.

There have long been reports of Tesla employees swapping footage extracted from their vehicle’s cameras like they’re trading something as trivial as baseball cards. Some videos they’ve shared reportedly include things ranging from not being clothed to kids getting run over by vehicles. There’s also an incident where two former Tesla employees gave a German media outlet access to the personal information of 75,000 people. It was a bad look for a tech-related company if there ever was one.

Tesla is Not The Worst Offender.

Elon musk with Tesla
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Again – external-facing cameras are a massive privacy risk, regardless of a vehicle’s brand. It’s not uncommon for crash footage and other personal data to be extracted from a vehicle long after it’s ended up in a junkyard. Hackers can even determine if the driver was using their phone when they crashed, along with anything else their phone’s unencrypted data might reveal about them.

Mozzila’s study found that German automaker Volkswagen collects various driver information ranging from driving habits, such as seat belt usage, to internet history. VW uses much of this personal data for targeted advertising. Ditto for Ford. They also track all their vehicle’s locations even if the location settings are disabled. This is in keeping with virtually every car company’s policy of sharing data with law enforcement for reasons they vaguely define as “reasonably necessary.”

Honda will collect anything about its customers due to their privacy policy, borrowing some tricky legal language from California’s Civil Code 1798.80. Everything from someone’s signature to their social security number and bank account information is open season for them.

Doors Don't Close on Data. 

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The worst offenders in Mozilla’s study were Subaru, Kia, and Nissan. All three of them collect data on their customer’s sexual activity.

Like Honda, these car companies utilize broad language in their privacy policies that grants them specific licenses to track and store this type of personal data on their customers – no matter how private or revealing it is. In short – anyone who values their privacy should not buy newer cars.