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Cars have changed a lot and in a very short amount of time. Think about cars from only 10 years ago versus cars today. The differences and tech advancements are astonishing. However, all these technological innovations and conveniences come at a steep cost in the form of a monthly payment.

Think about how connected many people’s cars are to their phones. This, in turn, makes them connected to our most private information. A new study by the Mozilla Foundation is calling nearly every car brand a “privacy nightmare on wheels.” 

Is your car gathering data on you? 

The black logo on a silver used Tesla electric car parked in the rain.
Tesla Logo | Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Our cars are gathering data in more ways than most of us realize. Mozilla states that any car with an outward-facing camera presents real security and privacy concerns. Now, for some of the more skeptical drivers among us who might not believe that car makers care about our car’s camera feeds, Tesla employees have been caught sharing videos uploaded from customers’ cars. For instance, some of the videos that employees stole and shared included videos of customers either naked or engaging in sexual activities. Taking an even darker turn, some Tesla employees were caught stealing and sharing videos of gruesome accidents, like footage of children getting hit by cars. 

Part of the study revealed that security experts said they could still access Tesla cameras and stored data long after a crashed car was left in the scrapyard. The Drive mentions a situation regarding the “Tesla Files” incident where 100 gigabytes of confidential customer data and personally identifiable information were taken by then-employees and handed over to German media outlet Handelsblatt

What car makers are taking your data?

All of them. The study confirmed that other major brands like Volkswagen, Ford, Honda, and nearly all other automakers are taking bits and pieces of your personal data. Then they use it to sell you more stuff or sell so someone else can sell you more stuff. Tesla employees pirating data and using it for their own personal gain is the creepiest, though, by a long shot. 

Volkswagen is known to collect customers’ personal, financial, and demographic data. Volkswagen cars have also taken data pertaining to speed, seatbelt usage, and other personal habits. Ford also abides by similar sketchy practices. Ford shares your info with advertisers, governmental bodies, and even Sirus XM. 

If you thought our friends at Honda were better for some reason, you’d be wrong. The Drive mentions that Honda is actively seeking the right to collect just about anything it can about you. It does this by citing a reference to California Civil Code § 1798.80 in its privacy policy. This particular legal definition includes your social security number, signature, driver’s license number, insurance policy, employment history, bank account number, medical information, and more.

It gets worse, much worse. 

Three car brands, in particular, are working hard to get at your most personal and private information: your sex life. Kia, Subaru, and Nissan are, for some reason, very interested in what you are up to in your bedroom. The privacy policies created by both Subaru and Kia specifically say that the brand or its employees may collect data on customers that include their “sex life or sexual orientation.” Nissan’s policy is similar, specifically noting that it collects data on both a customer’s “sexual orientation” and their “sexual activity.” 

If this doesn’t make us wake up a little to the power of corporations, what will? At what point do we say, “Enough is enough”? 

“When we do collect or share personal data, we comply with all applicable laws and provide the utmost transparency,” said a Nissan spokesperson in a statement to The Drive. “Nissan North America’s Privacy Policy incorporates a broad definition of Personal Information and Sensitive Personal Information, as expressly listed in the growing patchwork of evolving state privacy laws in the U.S., and is inclusive of types of data it may receive through incidental means.”

The Nissan spokesperson said the carmaker writes its privacy policies this way to cover its bases. It wants to write the policies as broadly as possible to better comply with state and federal laws. The person went on to say that the company “does not knowingly collect or disclose” info regarding sexual orientation. Keep in mind, though, it can. So it is within its rights to collect and share personal information. 

“Some state laws require us to account for inadvertent data collection or information that could be inferred from other data, such as geolocation. For employees, some voluntarily disclose information such as sexual orientation, but it is not required, and we do not disclose it without consent.”

What do we do about car companies taking our data?

This is a major question that many of us must face. There is an alarming amount of companies, likely more than you know, that have heaps of your personal data stored somewhere. These companies can, and often do, use and even sell this information. What do we do about it? Is it a good idea to let these companies have our information? These are questions we all must answer for ourselves. However, I think we can agree that our cars are seen as a safe space for many of us. It inherently changes things if that safe space is spying on us and peddling what it finds to the highest bidder.