In a decision that has stirred significant debate, a federal judge has ruled that the interception of text messages and mobile phone call logs by car manufacturers does not constitute an illegal privacy violation under Washington state law. This ruling came in response to a class action lawsuit against four major car manufacturers: Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and General Motors.
The lawsuit alleged that these companies violated privacy laws through their vehicles’ infotainment systems, which were designed to download and store copies of all text messages from connected smartphones. The software not only restricted vehicle owners from accessing their communications and call logs but also allowed law enforcement to access this data. However, the Seattle-based appellate judge determined that this practice did not meet the Washington Privacy Act’s (WPA) standard, which requires a plaintiff to prove a threat to their business, person, or reputation.
This ruling raises significant concerns about privacy in the digital age, especially considering the increasing number of sensors and data collection points in modern vehicles. According to Mozilla researchers, car companies can collect a wide range of personal data, including social security numbers, religious beliefs, marital status, genetic information, and even details about one’s race and sexual activity. This data can then be sold to marketers for targeted advertising.
Mozilla’s research further revealed that popular global car brands like BMW, Ford, Toyota, Tesla, Kia, and Subaru are involved in extensive data collection. This includes gathering information through sensors, microphones, cameras, connected devices, car apps, company websites, dealerships, and vehicle telematics. The extent of data collection led Mozilla to label cars as the “worst product category for privacy,” with all 25 car brands they reviewed receiving a “Privacy Not Included” warning label.
Given the limited options for consumers seeking brands that respect their privacy, it’s suggested that turning off phones before starting the car might be both a safer and more private practice. This ruling and the broader context of data privacy in vehicles highlight a growing concern about the balance between technological advancement and the protection of individual privacy rights.
Sources include: Malwarebytes