Current Issue


Technology ADAPT Reports

How Much Does Your Car Know About You?

Order Reprints

Nov. 24, 2020—When Derek Kaufman, a managing partner at Schwartz Advisors, gets into his Subaru Outback, it welcomes him back by name and automatically adjusts his seat, mirrors, and the temperature inside the car for him. If your vehicle knows your face, your posture, and your preferred-temperature, what other information could it be collecting? 

Almost all newer vehicles have Bluetooth capabilities such as Apple’s CarPlay and similar systems that sync various features from your phone to your car. At first glance, it seems convenient to be able to queue up tracks from your own Spotify or ask your vehicle to “call home.” But in doing so, you are giving your vehicle and its manufacturers access to your music preferences, contact lists, and home address to name just a few. 

Most of your car’s data storage is dedicated to the technical status of the vehicle. This includes measurements like operating temperatures, air bag functionality, speed, and location, says Kaufman. But while your phone is plugged in or connected to your vehicle, it could be reading your emails, text messages, calendar and more. When you unplug your device, the assumption is that your information is unplugged as well, but that is not always the case. 

USB ports are as convenient as they are deceptive. Not only do they charge your phone, but they open the door for your car to collect and store your personal data. This is less frightening if you drive your own car, of course it is going to know where you live after driving the same commute a few times. But if you were to say, take an Uber home and decide to charge your phone, now that vehicle has as much access as your own. Rental cars are another hotbed for data theft, which is why it is important to clear your own information before returning. It is the same principle for plugging your phone into any public USB port, whether it’s a train or an airport, Reader’s Digest warns against it. 

Cars today can have as many as 50 different computer systems, each one tracking and storing data related to your driving experience. A columnist for the Washington Post purchased one used infotainment computer (the primary touch screen device mounted on the dashboard) and according to his article, there was enough information stored in the computer to build a profile of the previous owner. The previous owner traveled frequently to Upstate New York and often called a number listed in their phone as “Sweetie.” Through this one computer system you can see where the supposed couple stopped for gas, where they stopped to eat, and even a photo of the said “Sweetie” was recovered. 

The chances of having your ADAS system hacked are very slim based on the painstaking measures it takes to calibrate the various systems. Your personal information on the other hand, is all but ripe for the taking. Kaufman says cars today have between $1,500 and $1,800 worth of technology installed. In the coming years, he predicts it will jump to $2,500, which could mean even more access to your personal information. 

Note: This story first published on July 29.


Related Articles

How Much Does Your Car Know About You?

What You Need to Know About Choosing a Scan Tool

What You Need to Know About Choosing a Scan Tool

You must login or register in order to post a comment.