Selling your car? Don’t forget to delete your private information
You’d never give away a computer without scrubbing it
Our cars are becoming increasingly more connected, with sophisticated technology gathering more of your personal information. Maybe you use Apple CarPlay, or Android Auto, maybe you just run apps through your phone. Here’s the thing: your car is downloading and storing a lot of your personal information. A recent study out in the U.K. indicates four out of five drivers fail to delete this sensitive information when they sell their car.
“Pair your phone to your car via Bluetooth or USB, and your car could absorb all your messages and contact details from your phone. It may also know where you live, where you work, and the addresses of your friends and family. Your car might even know your home Wi-Fi credentials.”
Many vehicle systems also store all of your navigation history. Unsurprisingly, this study found Tesla stored the most information about their owners, followed closely by Audi and BMW. Tesla may be leading the charge for an autonomous mode that is actually autonomous, but they have to collect a great deal of data on the way.
Most people don’t like leaving their phone unlocked at work or even in their own homes. Think of all the information on your phone — including banking — that you are handing over to your car via apps.
If you’re the buyer in the equation, you don’t want the previous owner’s information tying up the system. “ Potentially more concerning, if the previous owner downloaded the car’s app and failed to break the link between the car and the app, it could allow them to track the location of the car they sold to you, unlock its doors and even start the engine.” It’s in the buyer’s best interest to have the new-to-them vehicle restored to factory settings.
The technology is already being cited in criminal cases, especially when the original intentions of it — safety and security — are being hijacked. “Imagine Find my iPhone, but for your car. An app that lets you keep track of your vehicle at all times with your mobile device could thwart thieves and locate your vehicle in a labyrinthine parking garage. Sounds great, right? Now imagine someone is stalking you with it.” This Vice report lays out the nightmare for someone being abused or stalked; geolocation is brilliant at making sure you’re never lost, but it can be used to track your every move. We’re not all technically savvy enough to even realize how much information others might be able to access.
Most systems are fairly easy to reset to factory settings when you sell. But if you’re trying to protect yourself from an abusive party, zeroing out your system every day removes the personalized features you rely on while signaling that you are indeed hiding something.
Sometimes the technology can be on the right side of a crime. In 2017 in Michigan , police were unable to solve the murder of Ronald French. For two years, the case was cold, until one of the detectives looked into new theories and practices surrounding digital vehicle forensics. “ They returned to French’s 2016 black Chevy Silverado pickup truck, which had been stolen around the time he vanished, and discovered time-stamped recordings of someone else’s voice using the hands-free system to play Eminem on the radio at the time of French’s murder.”
The voice, an acquaintance of the murdered man, was identified by his relatives, “including his wife,” which allowed police to reconstruct the time around the murder. They made the arrest; busted by Eminem. The problem of course, is privacy. “[T]hat boon for forensic investigators creates fear for privacy activists, who warn that the lack of information security baked into vehicles’ computers poses a risk to consumers and who call for safeguards to be put in place.”