If your car could talk, what do you think it would say about you? It would sure know quite a bit of your personal information, like how you drive, who you talk to on the phone and where you live, work and hang out, among other things.
As Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler recently found out, it turns out your car can talk, and we’re not referencing an AI assistant like Siri. Most modern-day vehicles are constantly collecting data from drivers and relaying that information back to the manufacturer for market research purposes.
Fowler was curious what kind of data a 2017 Chevrolet Volt was harvesting and sending back to General Motors, so he set about downloading his data to find out what the car knew about him and his personal life. The only problem was GM provides no way for owners to download their data from a vehicle, so he had to enlist the help of a professional computer hacker to obtain the data.
When he did get access to the data logs, Fowler was shocked to see the car had downloaded the exact longitude and latitude of places he had visited along with his call history, phone contacts, email addresses, photos and more. This data was only pulled off of the vehicle’s infotainment system, too. GM also collects data via the OnStar receiver that comes standard in virtually every one of its products, though Fowler obviously can’t access that database, as information it collects is uploaded directly to GM’s cloud server.
It’s not clear what automakers like GM are doing with their customers’ data, but companies are free to do whatever they likes with the information they collect. There are no laws restricting what kind of data a car can harvest and no laws pertaining to how it can be used. Users will also have to agree to a policy when opting into a manufacturer’s connected vehicle services.
GM is far from the only automaker harvesting user data. The computer professional Fowler enlisted to hack into the Volt says he’s seen Ford vehicles that relay location data every three minutes and German vehicles with massive 300-Gb hard drives. Some vehicles will even record a passenger’s voice when they are using its voice command system.
It seems the only way to avoid having your data mined is to buy an older vehicle with minimal technology. Then again, if you bring your phone along with you, it’s very likely some corporation knows exactly where you are and what you’ve been doing anyways.
You can watch Fowler download his data from the Volt and hear what he had to say about the matter in the video embedded below.