In the privacy of your own car…

Have you ever considered that your car might be spying on you? 

I’d hope by now that we’re all pretty much aware that our phones are watching our every move, that they know all kinds of things about us from our circle of friends, the people we like, those we secretly dislike, our darkest thoughts, our happy thoughts, for what appears to be the majority, what we look like naked!  As well as all of this it even knows our up to the minute whereabouts, when we sleep, WHERE we sleep and perhaps even with whom we sleep!

Moving on, this is not an article about how creepy our little pocket-stalkers are… it’s about our cars.

So yes, our cars, they are far more than a means of transport these days. There’s a whole network in there.  Even the “dumbest” car these days will have tens or maybe hundreds of sensors inside, all tracking different parts of the vehicle, all potentially logging that information for use later on.
Some of the newest cars, the “connected” cars log far more. They report on our locations, our driving styles and more.

But even if you’re not concerned about these things, after all, can you even turn that off? What instead about the things you can control?

For example, does your car have a hands-free facility for your phone?  What about Satellite Navigation?  What data do these systems store and what can they reveal?

Satellite Navigation

Ah, the trusty sat-nav! How did we cope before the days of sat-nav?  I for one, remember using the old AA Route Planner website (or Microsoft Autoroute before that!) and printing off my maps and directions when going on work journeys almost going off the road on a couple of occasions due to trying to read and drive! I decided to change tactics pretty quickly, that’s for sure.

I tried to go-technical. I kitted my car out with an external GPS device and a cigarette-lighter charger for my laptop, so that I could use the satellite option within Microsoft MapPoint 2004 to get me safely from Bristol to Brussels. It wasn’t the best, with no turn-by-turn instructions, but it got me where I needed to be!

Having kind of proven my case, I then invested £500 in a TomTom Go 500 device.  Shaped like an old CRT television, it was a revolution.  Despite more than a few sat-nav-based-screw-ups, I’ve never really looked back.  Even if I know where I am going, I like to see the information about my journey on the screen, the ETA updated in real time.  And, of course, now, the live traffic updates too.  It’s just too convenient.

What about the information stored by the sat-nav system though?  It remembers countless previous journeys, just sitting there ready to tell anyone who cares to look, exactly where I have been.  “Hey!  Want to look at your previous destinations?”.

For convenience, some people might choose to store common locations in their navigation system.  “Home”, “Work” and so on.  This is great for ease of use, but bad if your car falls into the wrong hands.   Imagine parking your car at the airport to go on your holidays or on a night out.  Your car gets broken into or stolen… the thief engages the sat-nav system, conveniently, it tells him exactly where you live.  Now you can have your home burgled too!

On a less sinister note, what happens when you sell the car?  Or take it to have the tyres changed?  Who else might be learning about your location history?

Which takes me back to the telephone system…


Whether you agree with the use of phones in the car or not, it’s got to be safer to use a hands-free kit right?  What I never seem to understand, is just why you see so many premium car drivers (I’m looking at you BMW-boy!) talking on their handsets, surely hands-free is standard on top-end cars now?

I can hardly remember a time without mobile phones now, and for as long as I’ve been using my phone, it’s pretty much been connected to a hands-free device.  In the last ten years or so, it’s become more common to have smart bluetooth kits fitted to the car as standard.

What this does is connect your phone functions direct in to your car, so you can use the car’s controls to navigate your phone, make calls and sometimes, send and receive text messages.

To enable this, your car connects to your phone and synchronises your address book.  All of the contact details from your phone, sucked right into your car.

This is great when it’s your car, but what about when it’s not…?

How many hire cars have you used and connected your phone to?  I know I’ve done more than a few.  And pretty much every time I’ve connected, I’ve seen the last occupants phones and address books listed. “Sarah’s iPhone”, “James S8” and so on.

Just how many people are seeing your personal details or those of your contacts after you move on?

What to do?

First of all, think twice about saving locations such as your home to your sat-nav system.

Make sure that you find out how to erase personal data from your car or a hire car before handing the keys over, for example:

  • Clean up all of your synched contacts.

  • Remove Bluetooth Pairings

  • Log out of any mobile apps that come with your car’s infotainment system

  • Delete any music or other data from any built-in hard-drives that your car might have.

  • Look out for a factory reset option on your cars system or consult the manual to see how to run a reset.

As with anything in life these days, consider finding a balance between privacy, security and convenience.  And whenever you share your data, make sure you know who you’re sharing it with and what’s going to happen to it!

One Comment

  1. Rich Hare

    Really informative article, thank you Justin.

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