What Does My Car Know About Me, And Should I Worry?

Privacy, Rights

With the onslaught of new car technology, there are so many questions that come along with it. Can strangers access your location through GPS? If you’re calling your mom via Bluetooth, can anyone listen to your conversation? There are plenty of valid concerns on how much your ride actually knows about you. But here’s why you don’t need to panic (at least yet) and how you can take steps protect your data that may be out there.

Where Auto Tech Began

The first use of automobile tech actually dates back to the 70s when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began requiring manufacturers to find ways to measure the effectiveness of their vehicle’s emissions.

From there, standardized On-Board Diagnostics were born. Now known as OBD-II, this technology consists of a computer in your car that not only tells you about potential issues, but also records driving information like your average speed, for example.

Driven by Innovation

Engineers, designers, and automotive experts continue to revolutionize the tech in our rides. We have them to thank for game-changing features like blind-spot monitoring that gives your car the ability to sense other vehicles driving in your blind spots, as well as forward-collision warning, which can help prevent accidents by triggering your vehicle to brake automatically if you’re about to rear-end another car.

Plus there are even more planned features in the vehicle-safety pipeline, like active-health monitoring, which would alert 911 if you were to experience a medical emergency while driving.

Smart or Too Smart?

The modern vehicle is incredibly intelligent — most have more than 100 microprocessors, 50 electronic control units, 5 miles of wiring, and 100 million lines of code. Functionality, privacy, and safety all rely on the functions of these tiny processors along with their ability to communicate properly.

They also have the ability to record and collect vehicle information to analyze and improve performance. Not a bad thing, right? Well, for hackers, this data could be used to steal identities, invade personal privacy, or actually take control of your vehicle.

No Need to Panic

The good news? While hackers can maliciously target vehicles, most people aren’t vulnerable to these kinds of attacks. It’s complicated and pricey compared to, say, hacking a smartphone or PC, where personal info is more easily accessed.

The auto industry has recognized growing consumer concerns with their vehicles and cybersecurity. In an effort be a universal voice, the Auto Alliance (an automotive industry advocacy group made up of the top 12 major auto manufacturers in the U.S.) was formed with information security being a key focus. Whether it’s incorporating security solutions in the design stage or finding weaknesses in electronics, the Alliance champions auto cybersecurity in many different ways.

But how can you, as an individual, protect your data? Here are a few simple tips to help keep personal info private:

Make Your GPS Less Accurate

Setting “Home” on your navigation could invite unwanted guests (such as a valet) right to your front door. And with access to a garage door opener, an already-bad situation could get much worse. Avoid this by simply setting your “Home” to a nearby intersection or business.

Clear the Cloud Before Getting Rid of Your Car

Some cars can connect to your social media accounts and project them onto your vehicle’s dashboard for easy access on the road. But if you’re turning in an auto lease, or selling your ride to a stranger or dealership, it’s recommended that you clear your info before handing over the keys.

Delete, Delete, Delete

Simply making it a point to erase information on a regular basis could save you from some major security mishaps. Check your owner’s manual for complete details on deletion. Renting a car? Be sure to delete any personal data such as addresses or phone numbers that you may have saved in the vehicle’s GPS navigation.

Arun Ganesan serves as Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Esurance. He is responsible for data management and cyber security, including auto security, which informs his writing.