This Journalist Hacked His Car To See What Data It Was Sharing

Digital technology in cars means automakers can now collect data on drivers. Do you know how much you’re sharing?

We already know that big tech companies like Facebook and Google have collected a lot of information about their users… but what about the Big 3?

Geoff Fowler is a tech reporter for the Washington Post. He recently ripped apart a Chevy sedan to figure out how much info your car is gathering. He talked with WDET’s Russ McNamara about the role your car will play in data collection. 

Click the player above to hear WDET’s Russ McNamara interview Washington Post reporter Geoff Fowler and read excerpts below.

On the Privacy Policy for most car’s data

The privacy policy said GM had the right to collect pretty much whatever they wanted, for whatever purpose and to hold onto it indefinitely.

On the kind of data he found the car was storing after he hacked into it

We found locations, places where I had gone, places were the car’s owner had gone. We found contacts taken from our phone. We found calendar entries, music, basically it would have let whomever had access to that computer reconstruct our lives.

Why do all these companies want this data?

Data is the new kind of power. Automakers need it to build the future of transportation. Cars are learning to drive themselves. That’s a good thing. But my fear is that the car industry is at a turning point where they are collecting a lot of data, but they don’t really know how to protect it.

On the chances of car data being used for nefarious means

We’ve seen a lot of data breaches. It seems like every day we are hearing about a new one. There’s also the government. Good ones and bad ones. There are times when courts might want to know where a person was or what they were doing.

What can users do to protect themselves?

I think a lot of people don’t realize that the moment you plug your phone into a car your phone is sending over personal data to the car’s computer. So if you don’t want that to happen… don’t connect your phone.

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  • Russ McNamara
    Russ McNamara is the host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners. He's been an avid listener of WDET since he moved to metro Detroit in 2002.