How Much Information Does Your Car Know About You?

Published 12/14/2020

How Much Personal Information Are You Giving Away To Your Car and Possibly Others?

When was the last time you have thought about the technology in your car? Today, you can start your vehicle from an App, you can drive your car without a key and only having your phone. You can sync your phone and all your apps to the cars infotainment center. You can search for places, contacts and emails by only using your voice. Vehicles have a myriad of cameras and sensors that monitor every aspect of the driving experience, inside and outside.  Vehicles have become interconnected with us and our daily lives.

Have you ever thought about how this information is stored and who has access to it?

Newer vehicles today have a complex network of information sources. They mainly include the telematics system (“black box”) and the infotainment system.

The black box stores every aspect of the motor vehicle including the vehicles speed, navigation, acceleration, deceleration, if the lights where on/off, if the doors where open/closed and which ones, if seat belts were worn and if any airbags were deployed.  Even today's newest cars have 360 cameras and high-tech sensors to assist with driving and parking. All that information is recorded, stored and sent back to the car manufacturer.

The infotainment system is the “high-tech” end of the car that we most come into contact with. This system is what you phone connects to when you sync with your vehicle to make calls or use Android Auto/ Apple Carplay The information found in this database is often vast and in-depth. Information found here includes call logs, contact lists, text messages, social media information/ feeds, pictures, videos, web histories, voice commands, and emails. The infotainment system also keeps a log of all phones and devices connected to the vehicle whether through USB, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.  All that information is recorded, stored and readily available to third parties.

Vehicle Information Can Be Helpful for Police Investigations

The vast collection of information can be critical to piecing together a criminal case. Police can tell where the vehicle traveled, which doors opened, and which seats were occupied. Coupled with the vast information obtained from every phone that is connected, police can tell what happened, where it occurred, and who was involved.

For police, obtaining evidence from the infotainment system is usually much easier than obtaining it through a cell phone because cell phones are usually password protected and can be tough for police to crack. Cars never have this type of security, making it an easy target for police detectives to obtain valuable evidence that could otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.

This information is also very helpful in civil lawsuits and motor vehicle accident cases. The information obtained can bolster a case for either side.

Privacy Concerns

One of the biggest issues, that has yet to be dealt with, is what the car companies can do with this information. Currently, the only protection is the Driver Privacy Act of 2015 which regulates the information before, during and after a crash. But there are no protections for any other private personal information that is recorded and stored by motor vehicles. What information do the motor vehicle companies get and what information is provided to third parties?

There are serious privacy concerns that many people never think about. If you rent or lease a car, people never clear or erase the infotainment memory. Imagine how much personal information would be in the hands of the people who work at the rental car company or whoever gets the car next. Your home address, contacts, text messages and call history will all be in a stranger’s hand. A troubling thought.

Lastly, hackers are also a real threat to infotainment and vehicle safety. Vehicles generally have limited cyber protections to deter hackers and with vehicles becoming more technologically advanced, the threat continues to grow. This poses a real and current danger with the emergence of self-driving car that rely on a vast web of computer programs and sensors.

What Now?

I first learned about the vast information that can be gathered and used during my training at the National Computer Forensics Institute in 2015, which was put on by the United States Secret Service. Since then, I have watched how this information has grown exponentially over the years at the yearly National Cybercrime Conferences. As a prosecutor, I was lucky enough to have firsthand experience with the companies and products that extrapolate this information. I have seen it used in criminal prosecutions and fully understand its usefulness to criminal investigations. There is also a need for the criminal defense bar to understand and use this information in the defense of certain cases.

This is a growing field that I expect to become a hot topic in the near future both due to significant privacy concerns and the ever-increasing rate at which technology is taking over our daily lives and motor vehicles.

The Law Office of Matthew L. LaMountain has practice area expertise in handling criminal cases that have significant digital evidence.

Call now for a free consultation.