Drivers at risk of not clearing car data before selling

car with digital screen that stores phone data

November 9, 2021

Just like when you recycle, sell or dispose of an old computer or smartphone, failing to erase data from your car’s computer system before you sell it can leave you vulnerable to ID fraud or even stalking!

A Which? survey of 14,079 people has revealed that 80 percent of car owners (4 out of every 5) failed to completely remove history of their important, personal data from their car before selling it.

In addition, a Clever Cars study by Confused.com revealed that Tesla, Audi and BMW are the main three car manufacturers that collect, store and share data about a vehicle owner, via a vehicle’s infotainment console. This data can include driver behaviour and marketing information, and a poll by parkers.co.uk disclosed that almost 90 percent of drivers do not wish their driving behaviours shared with third parties.

And it isn’t just your data cars phone number or driving behaviour that’s exposed by modern vehicles’ computer systems. Simply connecting your smartphone to your car via a USB point or Bluetooth can allow your car to store personal information about you such as your address, place of work or even your home wi-fi login.

What’s more, the storage of smartphone data on car infotainment systems can also expose your bank details, text messages and social media feeds.

Gaining access to data like this from a car is a hackers’ paradise and something many cybercriminals are currently concentrating and honing their devious efforts on.

And if you buy a car, GPS data from car or phone apps can still continue to be accessed by the previous owner who could track your car’s location and stalk you, or even start its engine or unlock the doors. In order for this not to happen, the previous owner would need to unlink their data cars app prior to selling the vehicle.

Which? reports of such a stalking case in November 2019 where a boyfriend who had helped his (now ex) girlfriend purchase a car, used the car’s registration details to download an app. Via this linked app, the unstable boyfriend was able to start or stop the car and track its location. The ex-girlfriend was blissfully unaware of this until she discovered her ex standing next to her bed. Creepy!

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Are there any car manufacturers that do keep your data secure or encrypted?

According to uswitch.com, The British Standards Institute is collaborating with car industry experts and the National Cybersecurity Centre to develop guidance for those responsible for developing automated and connected car technology.

It’s also expected that vehicle insurance policies will include cover for cybersecurity issues so check with your insurer when you next renew and watch this space.

In the meantime, the best way to protect yourself from vulnerability is to keep your vehicle’s software up-to-date and before selling your car, ensure you completely remove all of your personal data and effectively restore your car’s computer system to its original factory settings.

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How to delete car data in 5 steps:

  1. Dig out your car’s manual or download a copy online.
  2. Access your car’s infotainment system settings menu
  3. Select an option that says “erase your account and data” or similar
  4. Check your car’s manual instructions to make sure you’ve fully deleted your data
  5. Don’t reconnect your phone afterwards

Alternatively, you could watch a tutorial on YouTube.

IMPORTANT POINTS TO NOTE:

Deleting an app linked to your car will not delete the information stored on your car’s computer; you must go into your car’s settings, using guidance from your car manual, to break the link between your phone and your vehicle.

If you are buying a used car, ask the seller/dealer for confirmation and/or proof that the car’s previous owner’s personal data has been completely removed and that they can no longer gain access to it.  No one likes a stalker!

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