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Big Data Is Selling Texts You Send From Your Car, Court Decides It's Perfectly Fine
Nothing to worry about, this couldn't possibly go wrong.
A federal judge decided Tuesday against reviving a class action lawsuit against four automakers, leaving the case in limbo. Recorded Future News summarizes the allegations against Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and General Motors, which the lawsuit claimed
had violated Washington state’s privacy laws by using vehicles’ on-board infotainment systems to record and intercept customers’ private text messages and mobile phone call logs.
The Seattle-based appellate judge ruled that the practice does not meet the threshold for an illegal privacy violation under state law, handing a big win to [the automakers,] which are defendants in five related class action suits focused on the issue.
The judge found that simply scooping up a car owner’s mobile phone data, recording it, and selling it to data brokers didn’t actually rise to the Washington law’s requirement that a plaintiff prove such acts are a threat to “his or her business, his or her person, or his or her reputation.” Until actual damage occurs, it’s all just the potential for abuse, which isn’t covered by the Washington law.
In one of the now-defunct lawsuits, plaintiffs sued Honda because since 2014, its in-car infotainment systems have been downloading and saving copies of all text messages when the phone they’re on is connected to the system.
My 2017 Ford asks me if I want to share my data with the car when I plug my phone into the USB socket; I’d assumed that was just songs and playlists for my convenience, but since I don’t use my phone for that, I’ve always just clicked “no.” Uh … lucky me? Or maybe just listening to podcasts on bluetooth means my car is watching me? The story adds that
An Annapolis, Maryland-based company, Berla Corporation, provides the technology to some car manufacturers but does not offer it to the general public, the lawsuit said. Once messages are downloaded, Berla’s software makes it impossible for vehicle owners to access their communications and call logs but does provide law enforcement with access, the lawsuit said.
The phone data scraping is just one of several ways automakers monetize drivers’ data— mostly without much regulation —because for years now our cars have just been big old computers that go places. In a broader look at the issue, Recorded Future News notes that the permission for such data harvesting is often squirreled away in the license agreements that you never read while setting up your infotainment systems. Whee.
And as more sensors are added to cars to collect driving data, that too is being collected and sold, because there’s a market for everything. Car hacker and privacy nerd Marc Rogers, the guy who hacked a Tesla to show it could be done, warns that
“How you drive is being recorded, where you drive is being recorded,” Rogers said of connected cars, which easily cull data from apps, sensors, and cameras embedded in infotainment systems and other smart devices built into the vehicle. “The industry is moving faster than the privacy regulators are.”
Don’t mind us, we’re just going to go get a new battery for our inherited 1973 Chevy, Vlad the Impala, which may only get 6 MPG downhill with a tailwind, but whose primitive electrical system will never narc on us
Fortunately, lawmakers are slowly beginning to take this seriously. California is looking to regulate connected vehicles, with a state Senate bill that would limit what can be done with car data, and a requirement to notify drivers when in-car cameras are collecting images, so you can at least get your finger out of your nose while parallel parking. Being able to opt out might be nice, huh?
It’s still possible that the plaintiffs might appeal the case to the Supreme Court to have the dismissal reconsidered, but their attorneys haven’t yet said whether that’s in the works. Besides, there weren’t any connected cars in the Founders’ time, so the Court may not be interested.
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