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New Vehicles Have Privacy and Data Security Holes You Can Drive a Truck Through

The Mozilla Foundation has been reviewing and ranking various technology products in terms of how they protect consumer privacy and data security for many years. This week, the Foundation released a comprehensive report delving into new cars and concluded that automobiles are “the official worst category of products for privacy that [they] have ever reviewed.”

Of the 25 OEMs they surveyed, all of them collected at least some data on both drivers and passengers via the vehicle itself, as well as through apps native to the car’s interfaces and non-native apps such as Google Maps or satellite radio. Among these manufacturers, 84% share consumer data with third parties (including 56% who will provide data to law enforcement “in response to a request”), and 76% go further still to sell that data to outside entities. Within Mozilla’s criteria, Tesla ranks the worst, with brands popular in the overland world, such as Nissan, GMC, Toyota, and Ford, also receiving poor marks. Dodge, Jeep, and Subaru fare a little better, but all 25 companies were tarred with Mozilla’s “*privacy not included” label.

The most troubling aspect of the Foundation’s research is they found a nearly complete lack of mechanisms in place from any manufacturer to protect data privacy and security, including even basic encryption. That data can include, in the case of Nissan and Kia, “sexual activity” and your “sex life”. Even “genetic and behavioral information” is fair game for GM brands. The privacy policies that accompany new cars (many of which run close to 10,000 words) often assume your consent to share data with the manufacturer simply with the act of entering the vehicle, and Tesla will turn off key features of their vehicles if you don’t consent, making them essentially inoperable. This means there’s little the average new car owner can do to stem this tide of data mining.

As with the ongoing debate about the “right to repair” newer cars and subscription-based services for key vehicle features like heated seats, the push for ever-increasing data collection by auto manufacturers reflects another major shift in their planned profit models. It also marks a sea change in how overlanders will be exploring the world in the futurenot alone into the unknown, but rather with big data always riding shotgun.

Image: Jamie Zawinski via Wikimedia Commons

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Stephan Edwards is the associate editor of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. He and his wife, Julie, once bought an old Land Rover sight unseen from strangers on the internet in a country they'd never been to and drove it through half of Africa. After living in Botswana for two years, Stephan now makes camp at the foot of a round mountain in Missoula, Montana. He still drives that Land Rover every day. An anthropologist in his former life and a lover of all things automotive, Stephan is a staunch advocate for public lands and his writing and photography have appeared in Road & Track, Overland Journal, and Adventure Journal. Find him at @venturesomeoverland on Instagram.