Modern motors are technical marvels that are more than capable of storing our personal data. And new research has revealed that when they sell their car, thousands of drivers are giving away potentially delicate information such as friends’ and relatives’ names and addresses. Read on to find out if you’re in danger of doing that or have perhaps already done it.
How do cars store personal data?
Increasingly, cars let drivers pair their smartphones with them via Bluetooth. This enables owners to listen to their favourite music, make phone calls and send and receive text messages – all perfectly legally and without touching their mobile phones.
For added convenience, most cars give their owners the option to download their contact information to the car’s computer drive. This enables drivers to access their phone’s call records and people’s contact details via the car’s screen. The study by Which? found that 54 per cent of drivers had synced a mobile phone to their car using either Bluetooth or a USB cable.
Why is this problematic?
The potential for trouble arrives when the owner comes to sell the car. If the phone is not disconnected and the account on the car and any additional information that’s been downloaded deleted, the new owner or owners could access it.
Is this a big problem?
Researchers from Which? discovered that more than half of drivers (51 per cent) didn’t bother unsyncing their phones after selling the car. Nearly a third (31 per cent) didn’t even bother wiping their personal data from the car.
More worryingly, four out of five drivers (79 per cent) haven’t followed the factory reset instructions on how to permanently remove data from their car. And more than half (58 per cent) didn’t bother to manually delete any data.
What about in-car apps?
An increasing number of cars can be linked with apps that you install on your mobile phone. This enables drivers to pair their phone with their car’s main functions. It means they can track their car’s location or unlock and drive the car using their phone as a virtual ‘key’. Some even allow access by other specified people, using their phone as a key.
Researchers found that 68 per cent of sellers didn’t bother doing a factory reset to uninstall the app. And half of drivers didn’t even bother unpairing the app from the car when they sold it.
What should drivers do?
First thing is to delete the connection between your phone and the car. This is simple to do, usually involving finding connected devices on the car’s screen and deleting the appropriate ones. You can also delete the connection on your phone.
You will know the car has downloaded your contact details if you search on the car’s screen for a contact or access the recent calls menu. If these have information in them, they’re in the car’s memory.
Wiping the information from the car might be a little involved. But the car’s user manual should tell you how to do it. And if it doesn’t, you could pop into a manufacturer’s franchised dealer. Deleting the data will be the work of a moment for someone who knows your make of car.
Is this going to get worse?
By 2026, it’s estimated that every new car will have the ability for owners to connect electronic mobile devices to them. CIFAS, the UK’s largest cross-sector fraud protection organisation, says identity theft using people’s personal data is already one of the UK’s fastest growing crimes.
What the expert says
Editor of Which? Harry Rose said: “If cars are not treated the same as a smartphone, tablet or other connected devices when it comes to data security, motorists risk giving away a treasure trove of information about themselves when they decide to sell their car.”