With exponential technological progress, phones are not the only gadgets that are becoming smarter. Machine learning applications have extended to other devices, including our cars. Have you noticed how infotainment systems are becoming more and more sophisticated?

Imagine a vehicle that knows you as well as you know it – a car that seizes to be just a car, it becomes your partner. Imagine that it knows your driving habits and daily routine and uses that information to suggest routes; it knows your music preferences and is capable of holding a conversation. This is also the path towards fully autonomous cars.

However, as you expose more personal data to your car, you may want to be aware of what happens with that information, and who ultimately owns it.

Join me as I explore this subject and learn how we can protect ourselves from revealing too much.

What information is my car gathering?

The car’s onboard sensors and computerized systems gather information on your driving patterns such as speed, routes, and destinations, and keep track of your climate control preferences. Furthermore, if you connect your phone to your car, then you have automatically shared your contacts, emails, music, messages, browsing history, and sometimes photos and financial information too.

Interestingly, we are aware of the huge amount of personal information that platforms such as Facebook or Google collect and store. Many would agree that their control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy. Thus, we demand accountability from the tech giants, as well as ownership of our private data. Yet, when it comes to the information that auto manufacturers are obtaining from the vehicle infotainment systems, by offering highly connected cars, we still have to work on spreading awareness among car drivers.

What happens to the information collected by my car?

Often times, we think that once we disconnect our phones from our car’s infotainment platform, we automatically erase all the data from it. However, this is wrong! The car computer systems continuously record data – on average, 25 gigabytes every hour. This data is processed and stored in the cloud afterward, becoming a matter of interest for other businesses.

Moreover, as cars are converting into big data centers, automakers have many incentives to further monetize this data. For example, information on your driving patterns helps insurance companies determine your premium. Data on the most frequented streets can be helpful to coffee chains, gas stations, or other stores for their marketing and network expansion strategy. Online purchasing data can further indicate your spending behavior pattern and be of use for fintech companies or other businesses to give you personalized offers.

Who owns the data my smart car collects?

Ideally, this data should be yours, and yours only. After all, it is private information, and you need to be aware of what your car knows about you and how it is used. However, unfortunately, there is no specific federal legislation that regulates car manufacturers on data processing and sharing.

It means that the whole picture on who ultimately gets to use your data, and even monetize it, is still blurry. There are some privacy policies that you sign at the time of the car purchase. However, the language is too technical, and usually, people do not bother to read and understand them fully.

How can I protect my smart car data from unauthorized sharing?

In the absence of a well-defined legal framework, it is up to you to follow a more proactive approach in protecting your data.

  • Increasing your awareness is a good first step in making you more cautious about what you share.
  • When you connect your phone to your car, try not to have saved passwords on your phone or make any online purchases.
  • If you rent a car, avoid connecting your phone to it. However, if you decide otherwise, take some time to delete whatever information you can on the car computer, before returning your rental.
  • If you decide to sell your car, take it to an authorized maintenance shop and ask for help permanently deleting your data from the car’s systems.
  • When you buy a new car, get as much information as you can on the manufacturer’s data security policy and how to turn off certain data connection features so that you can control what gets stored.

Even though these tips can help you minimize the risk of unauthorized data sharing, they still won’t fix the privacy issue.

Proper fully-developed cybersecurity legislation should be implemented on a federal and state level in order to limit data mining applications within the auto industry and increase transparency.

However, until that time comes, the only thing we can do is grow awareness of our private data usage and try to preserve it as much as we can.

What is your stance on this issue? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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