Is Your Chevy Bolt Spying on You? Are Your Other Cars?

While I haven’t said it here, I think one’s personal data is the most valuable thing about them. Companies pay for it, and they steal it. Remember all that TikTok nonsense? Now, the Washington Post has discovered that your Chevy Bolt knows a lot more about you than you might think. It’s scary stuff to be sure, but it’s a part of modern life that’s become inescapable. Or is it? Now, it’s time to find out.

Your Chevy Bolt knows more than you think

A pair of women gaze at a cell phone with a Chevy Bolt in the background
“Oh my gosh, how did it know we wanted to go here?!” | Chevrolet

Back in December of 2019, the Washington Post learned the hard way. Rather, reporter Geoffrey Fowler learned the hard way about how much data his 2017 Chevy Bolt collected. According to Fowler, his Bolt collected quite a lot of his data. Not only that, but the vehicle sent the data back to GM via its always-on internet connection. That data included everything from Fowler’s recent calls to his location (for GPS of course), and, weirdly, his driving habits. The vehicle recorded his acceleration and braking via the in-car computer.

In his article, Fowler makes a scary point. The data collected, despite it being about him, doesn’t belong to him. His Chevy Bolt took his data and sent it back to its rightful owners: GM. Moreover, there’s no way to get this data. Fowler had to hack into his Chevy Bolt to get that data. And that begs the question: What the hell does GM want with Geoffrey Fowler’s data, and what does GM want with ours?

Your data helps automakers sell you your next car

The Chevy Bolt EV hatchback with Austin, Texas in the background
Innocent on the outside | Chevrolet

To be clear, it isn’t just GM collecting this data. Other automakers do this too, Tesla most notably. And we agree to it. If you’ve updated the software in your vehicle, you’ve clicked “Agree.” Buried in that agreement is the agreement that an automaker can collect data about you. And it’s clearly much more than we think. However, in fairness, this data is in some ways being used for good. Accident prevention, UI improvements, and so on.

But your data is extremely valuable. I agree with Fowler. We’ve been playing “fast and loose” with the data our cars get for far too long. The Chevy Bolt featured in the article had collected photographs off Fowler’s phone. Why does GM need that? Why does anyone but your grandma want to see those photos of your kids? Marketing. GM (or other) marketing gurus want to know where and how you shop to better sell you that next car lease, just like seeing those ads on Instagram for the backpack you wanted. I bet you bought that bag eventually, didn’t you?

How can you protect your data?

The amber gauge cluster of a 2004 BMW M3 at dusk with the city in the background
Driving old-school is one way to keep your data safe | Chase Bierenkoven

So that begs the question: how do you protect your data? Truth is, there’s going to be some losses. You need an email address. It’s part of the modern world. Same thing with a cellphone. For starters, turn off location services unless you really, really need to get somewhere. That way your location data isn’t being stored. Additionally, not syncing your contacts can help keep personal data out of your car. Or, just drive an older car without modern infotainment. It’s not for everyone, but it sure is effective.

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