Your connected car knows a lot more about you than you think

Published on February 3, 2022

We all know our cellphones collect data about us: our whereabouts, shopping habits, and even the songs we listen to. But did you know your connected car is doing the same thing?

Today’s connected cars come equipped with a multitude of sensors that collect and process data in real-time. Many of these sensors are used for safety systems such as emergency braking and lane-keep assist. These features help keep us safe on the road, yet not all of the information is for the driver’s benefit. Your car is essentially a computer on wheels and the data it produces doesn’t necessarily belong to you. It belongs to the manufacturer.

Your car is recording your every move

Almost all new cars record and collect information about speed, braking, acceleration, and engine performance. This is broadly known as telematics. You may be familiar with aftermarket telematics devices like the Geotab GO device. But leading manufacturers are equipping vehicles with built-in activity sensors called OEM telematics. There are, however, major differences between OEM embedded telematics and aftermarket devices. For this reason, it’s important to know the type of data you want to collect and why.

Using OEM telematics, your car is able to build a profile about you much like the cellphone manufacturers. Your vehicle knows where you go, when you go there, your driving behaviour, and much more! Just when you thought there was nothing between you and the open road, guess again. Turns out you’re not the only one along for the ride.

Your cellphone transfers information to your car

Anytime you plug your cellphone into your car’s USB port or connect via Bluetooth, your car receives information. That’s right – the USB port isn’t just a convenient feature to charge your device. Whenever you connect your cellphone to your vehicle, the car’s internal computers receive data such as call history, contact information, text messages, and more. While it may not seem concerning that your car has access to your personal data, the laws about how vehicle manufacturers use the information are minimal – especially compared to cellphone manufacturers.

If you’re in the market to sell your car or return a lease, it’s wise to delete the data saved on the vehicle’s infotainment system. I doubt you want the next vehicle owner/driver to have access to your home address and passwords. According to the app, Privacy4Cars, four out of five cars sold last year contained personal data! The good thing is, there are apps out there, like Privacy4Cars, that can remove your personal data from a vehicle’s internal computer.

Targeted advertising based on driving behaviour

While most vehicle telematics hasn’t yet entered the world of targeted advertising, it does raise the question of whether this will be used in the future. It’s just a matter of time before we start receiving advertisements based on our driving history.

According to an article published in the Detroit Free Press, GM ran an experiment to see whether there’s a relationship between what drivers listen to and what they buy. Ninety-thousand drivers agreed to have their travel history and the music they listen to tracked over a period of three months. They discovered the data may help persuade country music lovers who normally frequent Tim Horton’s, to go to McDonald’s instead. Much like your online search history, we could start receiving targeted ads based on our whereabouts and taste in music.

Sharing data to improve road safety

And it doesn’t stop there. Vehicle manufacturers could begin sharing data with insurance companies to better match rates to regions and driving behaviours. Several insurance companies already offer data collection via a “plug-and-play” device similar to the Geotab GO9. This allows insurance companies to offer customized rate plans based on a client’s driving habits rather than the habits of the general demographic.

Despite the lack of regulations around car manufacturers and data, a lot of the information is used positively. Innovative safety features like lane departure and blind-spot detection wouldn’t exist without collecting data. As more and more vehicles collect data, the quality will only get better making the roads safer. Just recently, Geotab announced it’s joining forces with Data for Road Safety to support a “zero-fatality future” project. Initiatives like these are only possible by evaluating large samples of vehicle data.

Like most things in life, there are positives and negatives. As consumers, we enjoy convenience, simplicity, and anything that makes our days run smoothly. OEM embedded telematics has certainly helped improve our daily commutes and overall road safety. It’s safe to say connected cars are here to stay – we just need to be mindful that they know a lot more about us than we think.

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Matthew Cohen

Business Development Representative


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