J. D. Heyes
January 12, 2014
It’s bad enough that traffic cameras, satellites and the National Security Agency tracks and records virtually everything you do and everywhere you go. Now the nation’s major automobile makers are doing the same thing.
According to a report in The Detroit News, the tracking isn’t something that buyers were aware of (I’m assuming that’s because “tracking” wasn’t offered as an option but instead was, obviously, standard equipment):
A government report finds that major automakers are keeping information about where drivers have been – collected from onboard navigation systems – for varying lengths of time. Owners of those cars can’t demand that the information be destroyed. And, says the U.S. senator requesting the investigation, that raises questions about driver privacy.
The Government Accountability Office in a report released Monday found major automakers have differing policies about how much data they collect and how long they keep it.
‘If companies retained data…’
Okay, it all might seem harmless enough; the report says automakers collect location data so they can provide drivers with real-time traffic data, to help guide them to a restaurant or gas station, to provide roadside emergency service if needed or to track the vehicle if it is stolen.
However, the GAO found that, “If companies retained data, they did not allow consumers to request that their data be deleted, which is a recommended practice.”
The government watchdog agency looked at the tracking practices of the Big Three U.S. automakers – GM, Ford and Chrysler (though Chrysler is now owned by an Italian company) – as well as Toyota, Honda and Nissan. In addition, the GAO looked at navigation systems makers like Garmin and TomTom, as well as software app developers Google Maps and Telenav:
The report, which didn’t identify the specific policies of individual companies, found automakers had taken steps to protect privacy and were not selling personal data of owners, but said drivers are not aware of all risks.
Sure – and you can keep your doctor too.
The GAO says privacy advocates are concerned that location data will ultimately be utilized to market to individuals and essentially “track where consumers are, which can in turn be used to steal their identity, stalk them or monitor them without their knowledge. In addition, location data can be used to infer other sensitive information about individuals such as their religious affiliation or political activities.”
After all, consumers are tracked online constantly, and their shopping habits have been tracked by marketers; why wouldn’t car companies see the profitability of tracking information on customers that they could sell to markets, providing an additional revenue stream?
Legislation is not keeping up with technology – but the Constitution is clear
The GOP investigation was requested by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who chairs one of the Senate’s judiciary committees (privacy). He says more needs to be done to ensure that constitutional privacy protections are being honored for in-car navigation systems and mapping applications. And he says he will introduce legislation to ensure location privacy in the coming year.
“Modern technology now allows drivers to get turn-by-turn directions in a matter of seconds, but our privacy laws haven’t kept pace with these enormous advances,” Franken said in a statement. “Companies providing in-car location services are taking their customers’ privacy seriously – but this report shows that Minnesotans and people across the country need much more information about how the data are being collected, what they’re being used for, and how they’re being shared with third parties.”
Automakers, for their part, said they were committed to customers’ privacy.
“Details of the industry’s strict privacy policies are traditionally included in our sales and service agreements,” spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said. “That way, we ensure our customers have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with these strict privacy policies.”
You know, somewhere in that 500-page automobile purchase packet you get when you buy your car, or the novel-sized owner’s manual that comes with your vehicle.
It’s all right there in front of you.
This article was posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014 at 8:47 am