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Connected cars: What information about you & your driving is being tracked and collected?

Posted: 6:10 PM, Jul 21, 2016
Updated: 2016-07-21 18:30:55-04

Every year our cars are getting smarter. They're called "connected cars," which essentially means the vehicle's computer system is communicating with something else while you drive, whether its a device inside your car like a cell phone or the internet or outside sources like roadwork infrastructure or the automaker.

Ford Motor Company has Sync, General Motors, OnStar and Fiat-Chrysler has Uconnect. The common thread of all of these systems is they collect and capture a lot of information about you.

"Your car knows where you're going, when you're going, it knows your kind of driving habits," automotive journalist John McElroy said. He says consumers simple aren't aware of how much information is being collected.

If you look at Ford, GM's and Fiat-Chrysler's privacy policies it spells out some of the information includes your location, vehicle sensor data, tire pressure, safety belt usage and how you brake.

The International Federation of Automobiles (FIA)  recently found some Mercedes can track when a seatbelt tightens due to sudden braking. Also, vehicle GPS position is shared with manufacturers every two minutes.

McElroy says there is some information consumers are not going to care about but other data may shock them.

"Where I go, maybe who I'm visiting, who's been in my car, capturing conversations, which it can potentially do," McElroy said.

In statements provided to Action News, Ford and GM say some of the data collected helps provide services such as remote start and locking and unlocking your car. The data also helps monitor things like fuel level or problems with the car that the driver needs to be notified about. 

When you register your vehicles' in-car system, you are essentially opting in to the data collection. Lauren Smith, from the Future of Privacy Forum in Washington D.C., says it raises red flags.

"Some of the information may be going to the manufacturer, some may be staying locally on the car, some may be going to your insurance company if you've selected that, some may be going to some technology you've opted into. So we're trying to clarify for consumers what kind of information your car may collect and where the information is being sent."

The ultimate connected car

Ken Lingenfelter's car collection is known worldwide and he gets a lot of calls from car enthusiasts. After he took a ride in his Bugatti Veyron, he received a different kind of phone call.

"They kind of asked me how things were going at the speed I was driving.  I was misbehaving just a little bit," Lingenfelter said with a smile.  "At the end of the conversation, they had indicated they had noticed some extra moisture in the crank case that they weren't expecting to see."

Yes, the information from Lingenfelter's car was being transmitted back to the Italian car company. A team of engineers flew in from Italy to fix his car. The rest of us shouldn't count on that kind of customer service with the cars we drive... but still, it may be a sign of things to come.

All Detroit automakers outline their data collection in extensive privacy policies on their websites. These policies also limit what can be shared with third parties. And while all the major automakers have signed something called Consumer Privacy Protection Principles, some groups are still calling for legislation to deal with this ever changing field.

Links to Detroit automakers privacy policies:

The following are statements provided by Ford and General Motors when we reached out to them about our report... Fiat-Chrysler referred us to their Privacy Policy.

Ford Statement

“Ford is absolutely committed to protecting our customers’ privacy. We are stewards of data, and we commit to protecting it.  Vehicle owners must opt-in before personal data is shared with us.  We seek to be transparent with customers about how we use the data they entrust to us so that we may provide services such remote start, lock, unlock, and locate their car via a smartphone app, as well as allow customers to check vehicle status like Fuel Level.”

GM Statement

Through OnStar, GM has been a global leader in connected vehicles for nearly 20 years, delivering valuable, innovative services that improve the overall customer experience. GM and OnStar take seriously matters that affect our customers' privacy and operate its services with strong privacy protections and practices.

Data generated by our connected vehicles provides GM with the ability to offer a host of services to our customers. These services generally focus on increased vehicle safety and security and provide additional value to the ownership experience – and in a number of instances OnStar services have helped save lives. We do not collect or use any personally-identifiable customer data without a customer’s consent. And, before a customer opts-in to any services, we describe what data is collected and how it will be used. If a customer declines, we do not collect any data from the vehicle.

There are multiple data sources in a vehicle that GM utilizes to enhance the customer experience.  Data collected could be used to provide remote entry technologies through a customer’s smart phone using the MyChevy, MyCadillac, MyBuick or MyGMC brand apps or include monitoring the health of the vehicle’s starter motor, fuel pump and 12-volt battery in the case of OnStar Proactive Alerts. If anomalies are detected, OnStar Proactive Alerts will notify drivers to take their vehicle in for service, reducing unexpected repairs.

OnStar data usage complies with all local laws concerning privacy. For more details, you can find OnStar’s privacy statement here: is www.onstar.com/privacy