Behind the Wheel: Why Some of the Most Popular Cars Are Privacy Nightmares

A recent investigation conducted by Mozilla has unveiled a potential threat to the privacy of millions of global consumers, and it’s in a market that many believed would remain unaffected – the automotive industry. Over the past decade, this sector has witnessed a substantial transformation, particularly with the proliferation of electric vehicles, which have brought significant advancements in vehicle communication. However, this transformation comes at a cost, and it appears that cost may be a severe invasion of privacy.

In order to enable advanced driver safety features, modern vehicles are equipped with an array of sensors, often numbering in the tens, to collect data. Connecting these sensors to the internet, as per Mozilla’s findings, has made cars “the worst product category we have ever reviewed for privacy.”

Mozilla’s team of researchers scrutinized 25 major automobile manufacturers, and without exception, they assigned each of them their “Privacy Not Included” label, indicating severe concerns about their privacy practices.

The research found that all 25 manufacturers were collecting excessive data, including usage patterns, data from connected services and car apps, and even information from third-party sources like Google Maps. Alarmingly, the study revealed that the majority of these manufacturers (84%) monetize this data, with three-quarters (76%) of them including personal data. Only two manufacturers, Renault and Dacia, offered users any meaningful control over their personal data, both of which are part of the same company.

The study specifically focused on the following brands, although it suggests that the privacy concerns extend across the industry, primarily because car buyers often do not prioritize or even consider privacy when purchasing new vehicles. The list of 25 manufacturers is organized based on parent companies and alliances, where models produced under different names share components:

  1. Acura and Honda
  2. Audi and Volkswagen
  3. BMW
  4. Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC
  5. Chrysler, Fiat, Jeep, and Dodge
  6. Dacia, Nissan, and Renault
  7. Ford and Lincoln
  8. Hyundai and Kia
  9. Lexus and Toyota
  10. Mercedes
  11. Subaru
  12. Tesla

Furthermore, the study highlights a troubling aspect – there are limited options available for drivers to mitigate these privacy concerns. In many cases, it is impossible to opt out of certain data collection practices, and doing so may disable critical functions of the vehicle. This underscores the urgent need for greater transparency and privacy protection within the automotive industry.