New report says dozens of major car companies fail to protect drivers' data privacy

Dozens of major automobile companies received a failing grade for protecting people's privacy, according to a new report by the Mozilla Foundation's "Privacy not Included" research project.

Jen Caltrider was the leader of the research team.  She says they examined 25 of the most popular car companies and asked companies about what they do with all the data they collect. The research team also spent 600 hours reading the fine print of privacy policies.

"You buy a car now, or in the past three to five years, they're computers on wheels," said Caltrider.

These days, a smartphone app can unlock your doors and start the ignition on your "smart car." The trend towards technology features in the vehicles, as well as built-in apps and third-party connected apps, has expanded well beyond high-tech Teslas and other cutting-edge cars.

"They have sensors that track how fast you're going, where you're going, and how much you weigh, how many people are in the car. They have microphones and cameras that face out and cameras that face in," said Caltrider, "We have minimum security standards that we look to see if they use encryption and have ways to manage security vulnerabilities."


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All the companies failed Mozilla Foundation's basic privacy standards and some companies said they could share data without a warrant.

"We read privacy policies where car companies said they could share your personal information with government or law enforcement based simply on a formal or informal request. And that's really scary when you think the car is tracking you, could be listening to you, could be looking at you," said Caltrider.

The research team created a list of each car company's policies for consumers to check and hope it will prompt consumers to press for more protections.

"The car companies need to do better. They need to feel the heat from us to say hey, stop collecting personal information about me that you don't need," said Caltrider.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents car companies, sent a letter to leaders of Congress earlier in the week calling for a federal privacy policy for automakers. It says the patchwork of state laws is confusing. 

A link to the Mozilla Foundation Report to check your vehicle can be accessed here.