Do our cars spy on us?

How car manufacturers store data about you without your consent

A report by the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) has revealed manufacturers that offer cars with built in location-based software, such as satellite navigation, have been collecting data about drivers’ whereabouts and sharing that information with third party companies, without disclosing the purpose for doing so.

According to Senator Al Franken, who commissioned the report. “Modern technology now allows drivers to get turn-by-turn directions in a matter of seconds, but our privacy laws haven’t kept pace with these enormous advances…”

GAO carried out a report, amid fears that the growing number of location based services offered in cars ‘can be used to track where consumers are, which can in turn be used to steal their identity, stalk them, or monitor them without their knowledge.’ However, they claim that this information is okay to be stored, as long as companies involved protect the location data. The report states, companies should not keep location data longer than needed, and that such data should be deleted after a specific amount of time.

Notably, when asked by the GAO, all of the companies refused to disclose how long they store the data collected.

Business Insider claims, according to Ford’s Global VP of Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley, not only do Ford have the ability to track your car’s movements through the onboard GPS, they also know when and where users driving their cars are breaking the law. Farley stated: “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.” These statements have since been retracted as “hypothetical,” and later clarified by Farley to say that the data “could be” used to assist with traffic pattern management for events, and to deal with safety issues.

Whether Ford is spying on us, or simply have the ability to do so, the GAO’s report proves a massive reservoir of data about drivers is being stored without their consent, with possible implications. Is this data protected under the Stored Communications Act?

A Government Accountability Office Report found that major automakers have collected data from onboard navigation systems about the whereabouts of the drivers of their cars, but that drivers cannot obtain that information, or request that it be destroyed. The GAO report which investigated the practices at General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan, and the major GPS providers, Garmin and TomTom, found that each of those GPS systems retained location data. According to the report, “if companies retained data, they did not allow consumers to request that their data be deleted, which is a recommended practice.”

What can you do to prevent this unauthorised spying ?

If you are interested in purchasing a car with an integrated GPS system, but don’t want to be spied on, then there are a few solutions.

First of all, you can try and find the GPS gadget. This is usually located underneath the car or under the bumper. Normally they are small rectangular boxes. Open this box and remove the battery. This method ensures the GPS processor will have no power at all.

However, these methods don’t work with all vehicles. Some vehicles take power from the car’s battery. If you want to be able to track your car but don’t want manufacturers tracking your actions, you can buy a GPS tracker defence device.

Finally, the most radical solution is simply to unplug and remove your GPS box.