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🚗Your Vehicle Could Be Collecting & Selling Your Data to Insurance Companies (or, Recording You Naked in Your Garage)


Every time you connect your smart phone, or press the gas pedal, your smart vehicle records data like your contacts, text messages, call logs, and driving speed. Every time you speak, your vehicle could be recording your conversations. And cameras? Yes, those too. Read more to find out where the data goes, who profits from it, and how car manufacturers are pushing back against your right to privacy.


 

🔑 Key Concepts:


  • Every time you connect your smart phone to your vehicle, use your gas or brake pedals, or even speak in your vehicle (with on-board listening AI that you can't turn off), your vehicle records and collects data. And some vehicles' cameras are recording data as well.

  • Purportedly, that data is sold by automakers to data brokers.

  • Data brokers sell that data to anyone that wants to buy it. Insurance companies can buy this information—or get it direct from "safe driving" discount programs—and link it to individual policyholders. This has resulted in rate increases for some policyholders.

  • And lastly, data collection through vehicles are essentially impossible for consumers to opt-out of, so there are massive consumer privacy and protection concerns.

  • While car manufacturers are fighting against consumers' right to privacy, domestic abuse victims (through unsecured and uncontrollable car data, which can offer tracking for an abuser) are the only reason meaningful efforts are underway to change things.

 

With all the uproar about AI and cybersecurity, funny but pervasive memes about the end of the world thanks to a fictitious-but-possible Skynet, Clearview AI selling our facial data scraped from the internet to law enforcement and insurance companies, and so on, the more practical tech and privacy headlines that affect us get lost in the mix.


One of those practical headlines that gets missed, is this, from the New York Times:


Automakers Are Sharing Consumers' Driving Behavior With Insurance Companies


So, what does this mean exactly, why would you care, and what can you do about it? I'll cover all three.


First Up: What does this mean?


It means:


  1. Every time you connect your smart phone to your vehicle, use your gas or brake pedals, or even speak in your vehicle (with on-board listening AI that you can't turn off), your vehicle records and collects data. And some vehicles' cameras are recording data as well.

  2. Purportedly, that data is sold by automakers to data brokers.

  3. Data brokers sell that data to anyone that wants to buy it.

  4. And lastly, it's essentially impossible for consumers to opt-out of.


In September 2023, the non profit Mozilla Foundation did a privacy audit of the largest car manufacturers, and published their somber findings to evidence this. Here are some excerpts:


It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy [...] Ah, the wind in your hair, the open road ahead, and not a care in the world… except all the trackers, cameras, microphones, and sensors capturing your every move. Ugh. Modern cars are a privacy nightmare.

And they, go on to expand upon the following points:


The car brands we researched are terrible at privacy and security [...] 1. They collect too much personal data (all of them) 2. Most (84%) share or sell your data 3. Most (92%) give drivers little to no control over their personal data 4. We couldn’t confirm whether any of them meet our Minimum Security Standards

Why Would You Care?


I guess, you don't have to care. However, if you value your privacy (including not being recorded naked in your own home by your car. Yes, I'll cover that), then this article is for you.


If a consumer is fully aware of what they are signing up for, in plain language, and has a clear opt-out that's one thing.


But, on the tech side, we've already covered that vehicles are currently the worst-scored technology for privacy practices, so we can see that neither of these conditions are being met. If you hook up your phone to your vehicle, it copies texts, contacts, and other data from your device. And much more data is collected, from other sources.


Even your vehicle's cameras (outside) could be recording and collecting data. Tesla employees were found to be sharing private images and videos recorded by Tesla vehicles, including a man naked in his garage. Even if data stays within a company, how can you trust how the information is handled within a company?


On the insurance side, data brokers have been selling that data to insurance companies. Is that a bad thing? Again: only if the consumer is not fully aware, and can't opt-out.


Technically speaking, there are two ways to opt-out, but it will either break your vehicle's ability to be used (covered below), or you can't even buy insurance or receive some critical services or commodities (covered later in the article).


So, practically speaking, you cannot opt-out.


According to Mozilla Foundation's report, you can opt-out, but it might take away main functionality of your vehicle in some cases:


However, “if you no longer wish for us to collect vehicle data or any other data from your Tesla vehicle, please contact us to deactivate connectivity. Please note, certain advanced features such as over-the-air updates, remote services, and interactivity with mobile applications and in-car features such as location search, Internet radio, voice commands, and web browser functionality rely on such connectivity. If you choose to opt out of vehicle data collection (with the exception of in-car Data Sharing preferences), we will not be able to know or notify you of issues applicable to your vehicle in real time. This may result in your vehicle suffering from reduced functionality, serious damage, or inoperability." TESLA'S CUSTOMER PRIVACY NOTICE https://www.tesla.com/legal/privacy

And with future vehicles needing to have a mandatory Drowsiness Detection System (including mandatory in-car breathalyzers for every new vehicle, starting 2027) as part of an effort to increase road safety, the concern for privacy intrudes even further.


In this type of system (or retrofitted device), it's designed to alert you when it detects signs of drowsiness or inattention, will further collect, process, and potentially share sensitive information about your driving patterns and behaviors.


This move, while purportedly beneficial for safety, opens up another avenue for data collection and privacy concerns. And, there are issues with accuracy of algorithms used in such technology, including DDS systems thinking people of Asian descent are asleep or drowsy, simply because of the natural shape of their eyes.


I will avail you of data collection and privacy, technology dataset bias concerns (no, this does not mean 'bias' as in topics about ethic tensions, but rather scientific dataset bias), and the intricate web of beneficiaries (including insurance companies) of this technology, in another article.


What Can You Do About It?


At the moment, the options for maintaining privacy while enjoying the benefits of modern automotive technology seem limited.


Besides not driving a vehicle manufactured after a certain year and avoiding the use of smartphones entirely, there are a few steps you can take to safeguard your privacy as much as possible:


  • Read the Fine Print. Before using in-car technology, carefully review the privacy policies of both your vehicle and any connected apps to understand what data is being collected and how it will be used.

  • Use Limited Connectivity Options. If possible, use only necessary connectivity options that do not require you to share sensitive information. If your vehicle has an audio jack, you might try that (while obeying your state's regulations for safe use of cell phones while driving, of course).

  • Advocate for Transparency and Control. Support initiatives and legislation that push for greater transparency from automakers about data collection and for laws that allow consumers more control over their data. The most recent legislative wins (not wins yet, but federal legislative bodies are finally looking at it) are related to allowing for control over data, to protect domestic abuse victims from abusers that use tracking ability built into many modern smart vehicles.

  • Opting Out of LexisNexis Reporting Data. This can possibly bar you from being able to purchase insurance, but I will detail this below, either way.


LexisNexis Risk Solutions is indeed a data brokerage giant that amasses and sells consumer data for various purposes, including to insurance companies. Opting out of LexisNexis's data collection—except for publicly available data—can be a step toward protecting your privacy.


However, it's essential to understand the implications. According to Lexis Nexis:


"Please understand that by opting out, you may experience future difficulty using online systems for such things as instant identity and insurance verification."

Insurance companies and agents often use products from Lexis Nexis, in many areas of operations, sales, claims, and underwriting. As such, by limiting your information collected, that could affect some aspects of your property insurance.


For those looking to dive deeper into what LexisNexis collects and how you can opt out, their Privacy Center provides information. It's an opportunity to understand the scope of their data collection and how it influences various aspects of your life, from insurance premiums to background checks.


Here is the Lexis Nexis opt-out form, and additional information.


Last Thoughts


The intertwining of technology and privacy continues to be a complex issue, especially as vehicles become more advanced. While the benefits of these advancements are undeniable, the cost to personal privacy cannot be overlooked.


As consumers, staying informed and advocating for our rights is crucial in navigating this evolving landscape.


Remember, your voice matters in the push for a balance between innovation and privacy.


❤️ Be well and stay positive!





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