How to remove personal data from connected cars

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“Your car is a computer that stores a lot of information about you. When you sell or donate your car, that personal data might be accessible to the next owner if you don’t take steps to remove it,” the Federal Trade Commission has warned consumers on Monday.

connected cars remove personal data

Connected cars and privacy

We’ve been driving connected cars for over two decades.

It started with simple features that depended on cellular service (e.g., automated calls to emergency services if the vehicle was in an accident) but today’s smart cars offer much more, and open consumers to dangers they weren’t susceptible to before.

Worries about hackability may be foremost in many people’s mind, but privacy should also be up there on the top of the list as smart cars gather sensitive data such as location, the driver’s daily route, apps that are used, and so on.

And, if consumers connect their mobile devices to the cars they own or rent, the vehicles’ computer is likely to contain more than that: the consumers’ phone contacts/address book, mobile apps’ log-in information and data, digital content, garage door codes, etc.

Deleting your info from connected cars

“Some cars have a factory reset option that will return the settings and data to their original state. But even after a factory reset, you may still have work to do. For example, your old car may still be connected to subscription services like satellite radio, mobile wi-fi hotspots, and data services. You need to cancel these services or have them transferred to your new vehicle,” FTC’s Consumer Education Specialist Colleen Tressler pointed out.

“Besides the information stored on your vehicle, check to make sure you’ve cleared connections between your devices and the car as well. For example, car manufacturers may provide an app that lets you control the car’s functions or find the car — you should disconnect the app from the car when you sell it or trade it in.”

Tressler’s advice echoes that given by the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) last year.

The two organizations released a guide that helps consumers understand the kind of personal information collected by the latest generation of vehicles, which use data to further safety, infotainment, and customer experience.

“For so many consumers, the idea that their connected vehicle is constantly collecting personal information is completely new to them, and often times something they’ve never even thought about,” NADA President and CEO Peter Welch commented at the time.

“Consumers have every right to know what kind of personal data may be collected by any vehicle they drive – but knowledge has to start with awareness. It is our hope that this guide helps generate awareness about privacy and vehicle technology, and ultimately leads to more consumers feeling confident and safe in any vehicle they drive.”

The guide is written in plain language, making it accessible and understandable to most consumers. The next hurdle to pass is for the users to make an effort to protect their privacy.

The personal data that has been synched from their smartphones to the car can usually be deleted by via the car’s infotainment settings menu. But, if they can’t figure out how to reset and remove their information from the system, the FPF and NADA advise them to consult their vehicle owner’s manual and ask for help from their dealer or rental company.

“As vehicles become more connected, it will be important to keep up with new technologies and understand how your information is collected and shared,” they noted.

As time goes by, solutions like the Privacy4Cars app for quick deletion of personal data retained by modern vehicle infotainment systems may gain popularity and the whole process might be made less burdensome for consumers, businesses, resellers, rental companies, etc.