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Connecting Your Phone to Your Car has Likely Resulted in Your Car Spying on You

giving car access to data on phoneMany of us have some level of awareness that our smartphones are constantly collecting data about us, from our location to our spending habits and our Google search histories.

However, were you aware your car is probably spying on you as well? Experts say if you have ever plugged your phone into your car through a USB port or through a Bluetooth system, chances are your car has been collecting information about you ever since.

For example, if you connected your phone to your car so you could make a hands-free phone call, your contacts are being stored by the car, says Charles Palmer. He is executive director of the Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies at Harrisburg University.

Schmidt Kramer partner Scott Cooper says cars can trace “where you were, how long you stayed there, how fast you were driving, whether you were braking.” Every text you have ever sent and every picture in your camera roll is likely being stored by your car.

Even if you disconnect your phone, the information collected by your car will still be there. That means this information could be available to the next owner of your car. Rental cars are also storing driver information.

Cooper says drivers should not hook up their phones to Bluetooth systems in rental cars. You probably would not walk up to someone at Hertz Rent-a-Car and hand them your phone to let them look through it, “but that’s really what you’re doing,” says Cooper.

While the storing of information should concern you, that is not really the biggest problem. “I could see from a legal standpoint it being used in divorce cases, car accident cases.”

Fortunately, you may be able to wipe information from your car’s memory. This is particularly important before selling your car or returning a car you have been leasing. You should be able to find instructional videos on YouTube to explain how to do it.

Hopefully, information will get smarter as technology advances. Palmer says eventually the information may know it belongs to someone and keep a breadcrumb so the owner can find it.

Unfortunately, we have hit a turning point for car surveillance. Most 2020 model-year vehicles sold in the U.S. have built-in Internet connections. That means the Internet is always on in these cars, giving manufacturers the ability to track you, such as if you do not make a car payment.