New Cars Spy On Us Non-Stop. What Can You Do About It?

Most 21st century cars are turning into larger, drivable forms of the smartphone.

Sounds unlikely? Think about the in-vehicle infotainment system. An infotainment system is a dashboard mounted hardware and software system that provides information, audio and entertainment services.

A car’s infotainment system can act as a GPS device, make hands-free calls, connect to your home’s WiFi network, send emails and more.

The global infotainment system industry for vehicles was valued at $22 billion in 2018. It’s big business and will grow by more than 10% by 2026.

However, if you’ve ever driven a car with a modern infotainment system, you now have cause for worry.

Cyber security experts warn that vehicular infotainment systems are becoming burgeoning digital privacy threats akin to unprotected smart devices or laptops.

Your use of a car, or rental car, infotainment system can open you up to hacking, tracking and having your private information sold.

In May 2020, a cyber-security expert called GreenTheOnly reported the experience of buying old infotainment system dashboards containing the accumulated personal information of previous owners, in electric vehicle magazine InsideEVs.

Amazingly, GTO was able to purchase four Tesla infotainment dashboards components off of eBay containing troves of valuable personal information.

GTO said that each component had data such as the previous owner’s “home and work location, all saved Wi-Fi passwords, calendar entries from the phone, call lists and address books from paired phones, Netflix and other stored session cookies.”

It takes specialized training to access the data in an infotainment component. The dashboard may have to be removed to obtain such information.

Protective measures

And there is no appreciable data to support the idea that personal information is being stolen from infotainment systems as they are being used. That doesn’t change the fact that you can easily purchase such components on eBay that do contain private information.

If you know where to look, you can buy infotainment components for car models like BMW, Cadillac, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz on eBay.

Astonishingly, GTO reported the experience to Tesla and said the car company refused to commit to notifying its data-compromised customers.

To bypass downloading and storing personal data on a vehicle’s infotainment system use analogue systems in your smart device by plugging it into the charger. Once you plug a smart device or thumb drive into the USB port of an infotainment system, the data is automatically stored.

If you sell or rent a car with an infotainment system, be vigilant of digital security as you would an old smart phone or laptop.

You could also take the vehicle to a dealership or mechanic and request they delete infotainment system data. There is no guarantee such measures will be successful, however.