Here’s how your car data could sell you out


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While cars can’t fly or do your taxes — yet — they can be pretty smart. Navigation and “infotainment” systems on newer vehicles can store your address, open your garage and access your cell phone. IHS Markit predicts that by 2023, 69% of passenger vehicles sold will be connected ones, with onboard sensors and computers. So what happens to all of that data when you get rid of your car? It could wind up in the hands of strangers. The next person who has the car could have a creepy-level amount of information about you and your family.

Of course, if your car has only roll-down windows and an AM/FM radio, this doesn’t apply to you. If your car has more technology, however, read on to find out what is at risk and how to protect yourself.

The type of car data at risk

Your previous and saved locations

Andrea Amico has spent most of his career involved in the wholesale of used cars. What he learned in the business inspired him to found Privacy4Cars, a mobile app that guides users with photos and instructions on how to delete their car data. One day during a car inspection, what he found surprised him. “I was literally two clicks away from getting inside someone’s house,” he said. “I had her home address, the garage code, [addresses for] her doctor’s office, her kid’s school, and after-school activities.” It even showed the saved address for a cancer treatment center.

Amico said it doesn’t take special skills to see this information, just basic knowledge about syncing a car’s computer to a phone.

Home access services, subscriptions

A car does not require a passcode or facial recognition once you’re in it. A new driver can simply press a button to open your garage. Services such as HomeLink are handy in that they can allow you to deactivate the home security system and turn on the lights before you walk in with an armful of groceries. But those probably aren’t things you’d want a stranger to be able to do. HomeLink recommends you delete the programming for security purposes before you sell or turn in the vehicle.

Other subscriptions may give a new driver access to your wallet. Alicia Garcia, a Kia salesperson in San Antonio, said a customer once forgot to cancel their satellite radio subscription. The next person who bought the car continued to use it, racking up charges. “If they do not call to cancel or transfer the service, it keeps going,” Garcia said.

Contacts, texts, media and call logs

Syncing your phone with your vehicle means the car may have access to your contact list, personal contact information, call log, digital media and more. So besides being able to call your mom and listen to your favorite playlist, a new driver could keep up with your daily life. In one instance, Amico said, a car was able to read aloud the former owner’s current text messages because the phone was still synced and the owner had not deleted the car’s data prior to reselling it.

What about the law?

Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear two cases involving the Stored Wire and Electronic Communications Act, a federal law specifically governing car data privacy is in the works. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the SELF Drive Act, a bill that would require manufacturers of highly-automated vehicles to develop cybersecurity and privacy plans before selling those cars to consumers. It now sits with a Senate committee. California became the first state to enact cybersecurity laws for smart devices when it passed the California Consumer Privacy Act which could have an impact on connected cars when it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. It remains to be seen if other states will follow suit.

The U.S. is not the first country to take note of this issue. The European Union has already passed regulation on data protection and consumer rights.

How to clear car data

The two best ways to clear your car data yourself may be to restore factory settings on the infotainment system and unpair the car from your phone’s Bluetooth. After this, you may want to double check that specific apps on your car have been digitally wiped. For example, check that the navigation app no longer has your addresses saved. And to cancel or transfer services like SiriusXM Satellite Radio and HomeLink, contact the provider.

If you don’t feel like clicking around on your car’s system to figure things out, you may be able to find a tutorial on YouTube, get instructions from the owner’s manual, get help from a car salesperson or use an app.

When you rent. Clearing your data is important when you sell or donate a car, but it’s a good idea to follow the same steps after renting a car.

An app for clearing car data

Privacy4Cars is an app that is free to download and offers two free “wipes,” step-by-step pictures and instructions on how to clear your car data, based on the car you have. If you need more than the two free wipes, there are paid options, too. On Google Play for Android, the app has a 4.4 star rating. Users of the Apple Store gave it a 4.9 star rating. Reviewers note that it is especially useful if one often rents vehicles.

What else does your car know about you?

As more and more cars become connected and offer more safety features and conveniences, the amount of data that cars — and thus carmakers — know about their drivers can reach levels previously unconsidered. Here are some examples of what else your car could know about you.

  • Safety systems that help the car to balance and keep traction may know how much you and any or all of your passengers weigh.
  • Systems such as Subaru’s DriverFocus can recognize up to five faces and remember their favorite seat positions, media and temperature preferences.
  • Chevrolet’s Teen Driver system can also know who is driving by recognizing a specific car key and apply limits to things such as maximum driving speed and maximum music volume when that key is in use.

While many of these advanced features keep us safer as drivers and passengers, it’s important to keep track of what your car might know about you and what information you wouldn’t want in the hands of the next owner or their passengers.

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

Featured Image Credit: SrdjanPav.