Article: Who is Collecting Data from Your Car?

Related forum post: New Post: Locked In A Remote Control Car

I hope someone has started compiling a list of privacy-respecting new cars.

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Are there any? At this point I think the “smartphone-ification” of cars is pretty universal. If I had to get a new car today (thankfully I don’t), I don’t exactly know what I’d do. I’d likely get a used, pre-tracking car instead, frankly.

The challenge with EVs is the same as with smartphones, you have an always-on computer with a battery that ensures it can continue to phone home constantly. If I went EV it would likely be in the form of an after-market kit I could retrofit onto an older ICE car, that way I would have more direct control over the telemetry data.

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I would like to buy a new car in the near future, but I’m at a loss as to which manufacturer/model I can trust, especially for EVs. I’m guessing the answer is “none.”

For now, I’m still driving my 15-year-old car, but I suspect I can’t even trust that one when it’s periodically connected to the service department’s systems.

We need some kind of OpenSnitch or Pi-hole for cars.

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What about severing the antenna connections on the vehicle? Then you don’t need to trust the vendor.


You need to find said antenna first, and this may not be easy or possible at all.

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Besides OnStar, most of the items in the article can be avoided by getting a car without a radio. Avoid hooking a replacement radio to the CAN bus, and you neuter it’s reporting capability.
OTOH, my information is 10 years old, but knowing the speed of the auto industry, probably only newcomers like Tesla have other paths.

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A less destructive option may be to shield the antenna.

Still, with a range of radar functions in modern cars (e.g. when you are going to rear-end the car in front), shielding may not be viable and explicitly severing just the cellular connection may be the only option. And of course you may not want to lose the use of the radio.


Even without an ongoing cellular connection, spydata can all be accumulated in non-volatile storage and then uploaded when the car is in for service. It might also be that spydata is uploaded via a connected mobile phone (if it’s Google or Apple spyware).

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Let’s throw this into a convergence context. Remove the radio from your car, get a privacy respecting phone and phone plan, install an audio amplifier, and plug your phone into the amplifier. Instant infotainment system that you take from car to car. :smiley:

The question is, if this took off, how long before the car manufacturers started requiring their spy devices to be hooked to the vehicle bus?

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As in other areas, the local government is piloting a program to track cars in order to charge road taxes based on mileage, not as part of a fuel tax. (Knowing how governments act, they will probably do both once a tracking program is implemented.) Any remaining privacy on all vehicles may become a thing of the past; the force of governments will make this mandatory for all registered vehicles in coming years.

In this case, the governments may use the manufacturers’ implementations or they will justify using data collected by others, saying they want to minimize fraud (ha ha) and ensure that mileage and route reporting are validated via other means.

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Yep, this is how they currently slurp all the data up our of a non-connected vehicle. Connect to the OBD-II port and download everything :confused:

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That is always going to be a concern.

It may help to spell out what country.

In mine (Oz) this is part of the response to the move to Electric Vehicles. Currently the government gouges you on the price of fuel via “excise” (i.e. tax). If everyone had an EV then the government would collect zero dollars in excise on fuel, so they are looking at other options.

Doing it by distance travelled is one option but there may be other ways to determine distance travelled. For example, in my country, a vehicle older than X years must be checked annually for roadworthiness (and that goes directly to the government to make the car legal to drive). I expect that that process already generates an odometer reading but if not, it surely could.

Using location tracking is not the most accurate way of calculating the distance travelled.

If you are worried about a fraudulent odometer reading being reported by a bent employee doing the roadworthiness check then, the way things are going, the car could report the odometer annually directly to the government (not that I would welcome that - but one annual odometer reading is a lot less intrusive than almost constant tracking).

Still, it’s something to watch out for.

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If one were to disable the gps and cell antenna I don’t think it could accurately track any locations. Even if you take detailed measurements of each turn the longer the car is driven from a known location (the repair shop) the less certain one can be about it 's location.

Well yeah but many people like the navigation features of their car!

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Very interesting thread. It’s the new rage for everyone who touches your vehicle to grab your data, including repair shops, dealerships, and more. I’m no expert in this matter but I have some thoughts. There are some conveniences afforded by privacy-disrespecting options. Also, privacy-disrespecting features in a vehicle really can sometimes protect a person. However, if you consider your independence a matter of principle, you may choose to avoid those features nonetheless. Which could mean giving up some utility.

Also important to understand that license plate tracking by camera is becoming common and can be used to follow you around. And, of course,mobile phones themselves double as tracking devices.

The following may not apply, or perhaps it’s overly protective or otherwise obvious and doesn’t need to be stated. But, just thinking out loud:

  • When purchasing a new car, do not allow a dealer to install or activate any kind of “security”. You will want to put this in writing to the dealer. Dealers are not manufacturers and sometimes these systems may collect data on behalf of the dealer.

  • Simplify vehicle feature set. Don’t buy all the fancy gadgets.

  • Don’t activate any monitoring service like Onstar.

  • Don’t sync your phone’s data to your vehicle.

  • Avoid using vehicle handsfree system to place and receive calls.

  • Use a headphone jack or bluetooth to direct audio (and nothing else) from the phone to the vehicle sound system.

  • Use an ethical repair shop that doesn’t want your car’s data. This one might be difficult. If they don’t already, some professional diagnostic systems could insisted upon connectivity and report more information than just service codes.

  • Invest in an OBD protector, and/or relocate vehicle OBD port if possible. Rather than delegating, expect to be involved in collection of data from your vehicle.

This discussion is just further making me think that a person who is truly concerned about privacy needs to abandon modern society and live like the Amish.

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@johnk :sweat_smile: In that direction, perhaps. I’d be happy redirecting modern society, using my pocketbook, away from considering customers as possessions.

Freedom means the freedom to choose - including choosing convenience (for example) over privacy - but too often it is not a choice, either due to ignorance, lack of transparency, or simply because there is no choice.

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Shortly after I got my first smart phone, I noticed that it gave off a double beep sound occasionally. Eventually, I noticed that it only gave off this double beep sound when in the car, and more often on the freeway. Eventually, I realized that every time I exceeded the speed limit, this double beep went off to warn me that I was speeding. When I tested it by speeding on purpose, it went off every time, until I figured out how to turn it off. I guess it’s not hard for the phone manufacturer to create and build this feature in to the phone. If they wanted to, they could prevent us from turning it off.

Theoretically, if the state wanted to, they could issue any one of us a speeding violation ticket, upon each and every speeding violation (without exception) that we ever commit. This would catch every driver, no matter how careful and well-intentioned they are, in several daily or weekly speeding violations. This could be another form of taxation. They alrwady do this with photo radar now anyway. But why then would the state need to set up expensive speed traps that use radar and cameras when they can have automation deliver the information right from your phone, in to a mailed violation citation being sent to you?

This is why my newest car is from 94.
You can get nice and reliable classic cars with powerful engines, a/c, cruise control, leather and everything for way less than new junk that spys on you.

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Good points, @Wayne. But I am less concerned about local/state government tracking my mileage (from which I would presumably derive benefits of improved roads and safety) than I am about random, numerous commercial entities tracking every aspect of my driving and location for marketing purposes or for selling to insurance companies, opaquely to me, and without the ability to stop it.

@irvinewade, California is implementing something similar for EV road taxes, I believe. Here, also, once a new ICE car has been registered in the state for a few years, it has to undergo smog testing and certification every other year as part of the annual registration update.