Monday, December 23, 2019

Big Brother - vehicle edition

Earlier this month, I pointed out that "If you allow "smart" devices to listen to you non-stop, you're crazy".  That article examined the security risks of allowing smart devices into your home, because you had no idea what they were listening to and/or recording.

Now comes news that your car is almost certainly spying on you just as hard, if not harder.  Please watch the short video below;  or, if you prefer, read the report about the investigation.  Both are mind-blowing in their implications for our security.

It turns out that almost every modern vehicle is recording just about everything it can find about you, including your contacts from your smartphone, your driving style and habits, where you go, how long you're there . . . the whole schmear.  We have no idea how much of this is being uploaded to the vehicle's manufacturer, or what they're doing with it once it hits their servers.  Their conditions of service simply give them the right to collect it - and we're told nothing more.  We can't even opt out of it unless we deliberately refuse to subscribe to many of the services we've come to take for granted in modern vehicles;  and even that may not be enough to ensure our privacy.

The author of the article concludes:

To limit what private data your car collects about you, Fowler recommends not connecting your phone directly to your car via the built-in USB port and to use 12-volt chargers instead. He also suggests using an app called Privacy4Cars to make sure you delete your data from cars you use but don't own, including rentals or when you borrow one from a friend.

These tricks might not be enough when the upcoming 5G networks arrive and allow vehicles to transmit more data in less time. Coming soon to a dashboard near you.

There's more at the link.

Sadly, even the app mentioned above, Privacy4Cars, requires you to connect your smartphone to your car to use it!  That seems self-defeating to me.  The app's Web site provides links to several videos on their YouTube channel about what it does, and how car manufacturers collect your data.  They make interesting viewing.

Most frustrating from my point of view is that one can no longer buy a new car without such monitoring hardware and software installed.  The manufacturers no longer sell them.  Even if I specifically tell them that I don't want their real-time services such as OnStar, how do I know they aren't recording data anyway?  And how do I know that might not come back to bite me if it gets downloaded somehow without my permission, or even my knowledge?  I can see that data being used by divorce lawyers, private investigators, or even police, and I'd have no way to know about it or prevent it until it was too late.

That's why I won't connect my cellphone through the car's systems at all.  I'll use it stand-alone, not even with a Bluetooth connection, much less a USB cable.  It's the only way I know to stop my data from being stolen.  With the advent of 5G cellular service, even that may not be enough.

I wonder if one can burn out the vehicle computer(s) that do that job, while leaving the rest of the driving electronics intact?  I suspect not . . .



Steve Sky said...

Ford's VP said, "We can track you anywhere you go, and see how fast you're going", and after the backlash, tried to walk it back by saying, "But we won't do that."

Yeah right. I believe him. /sarc

Onstar is famous for being on all the time, whether you subscribe or not. Also, it can be turned on remotely to record what is going on in the car, and this has been used in court cases already. Here are some examples.

The best fix I read for Onstar (on slashdot) was to take apart the vehicle's control box, and remove the antenna connection to the wireless modem. Of course, you are on your own if you do that. I'd also guess that the manufacturers have "fixed" this so the vehicle won't work properly (run at 5mph?) if it can't contact the hive mind. (this would be similar to how "smart" TVs & game controllers won't work if you disable their internet connection.)

Related to privacy, but not wireless per se, is the RFID tagsembedded in each of your tires. Get tracked each time you stop at a toll both?

Poodlehorde said...

Short term solutuon - buy used that is old enough not to have the equipment

stencil said...

"I wonder if one can burn out the vehicle computer(s) that do that job, while leaving the rest of the driving electronics intact? "

Sounds like a great career opportunity for a discreet auto tech, working for cash. Privacy aside, I'd pay a premium just to be able to roll down the windows without depending on an alternator-battery-motor chain.

MrGarabaldi said...

Hey Peter;

The problem is that everyone wants fuel economy and performance. That takes computers and the computers are so intertwined with the car it would be virtually impossible to separate unless you gut the car like a fish figuratively speaking.
Poodlehorde is correct, in the short term, get an older vehicle that the computer isn't so involved with the car.

Eric Wilner said...

Ditto Poodlehorde: it's yet another reason to buy used.
I'm about to be in the market for a pickup truck or serious SUV (significant towing capability required). The new offerings from Toyota and Ford have such shiny features... and yet....
Reason #1: new pickup trucks configured appropriately for my purposes are expensive!
Reason #2: a new Tundra comes with hideous postapocalyptic styling, and a new F-150 set up for towing comes with a twin-turbo engine, which I don't trust on what's supposed to be a boringly utilitarian vehicle.
Reason #3: the topic at hand. This may call for some research.

JackL said...

It's almost as if the corporate sector snuck in and put everything under surveillance while we were all eyeballing governments with (completely justified!) suspicion.

I wonder: to what extent have these technologies been inflicted on motorcycles?

Klebert L. Hall said...

Drive an old car, if you want privacy in your car.

My 15 year old "new" car narcs on me somewhat, but not as much as a 2020.

My 51 and 53 year old cars have very limited intelligence-gathering capabilities.

You might also want to throw away your cellphone, even though they are Tasps for most people.

It's like you say, people want luxury and convenience. You just have to figure out whether you want those things more, or privacy. The rules certainly aren't going to change, the demographic majority has already spoken, and it's a huge landslide for luxury and convenience.


Dad29 said...

FWIW, pre-2008 GM cars with OnStar are analog-network ONLY....meaning that they may gather data, but it's not going anywhere.

BladeRunner1066 said...

One way to isolate your phone from your vehicle, and many other things, is to use a power only USB cable.

I think the largest current market for car information is the insurance companies.

McChuck said...

Steve - Newer tires use retransmitting bluetooth sensors. "Here I am! Here I am! Here are my friends!"

emtgene said...

I can foresee in the not so distant future, vehicle data being accessed, traffic citations issued electronically, and the fine being deducted from your bank account. Too much Big Brothering going on.

pkerot said...

Doesnt matter about the car. Your phone knows where it is at all times

juanito said...

This is why a friend and his kids drive 3, 1993-1997 Dodge PUs with the 5.9 Cummings V12 engines. Known as the 1MM mile engine. Not a damn electronic in any of them and will run on about anything you put in the tank. Has about 2K gals of used cooking oil in the backyard at all times. Can be pushed started w/o a battery in them, he claims.And burner phones I imagine, good for calls only.