If you were to install broadband for your home, would you want to set it up without a password, leaving your personal data open for anybody to see? Probably not. Yet when it comes to protecting the personal information that’s increasingly being gathered and stored on the computer systems of our cars, it can be very easy to forget about the possible dangers.
What are connected cars?
Almost every car on the roads today is ‘connected’ – equipped with the means to connect you to the Internet by pairing with your smartphone. Most models allow you to couple your phone to the car’s infotainment system via USB and Bluetooth. When connected, that infotainment system can load maps that guide you to the nearest parking space, show you where to get coffee and chart the easiest route from A to B.
Many newer, more technologically advanced models allow you to do much more on top. Several manufacturers offer companion apps that allow you to control your car remotely, locking and unlocking the doors, setting the temperature inside and alerting you when it needs a service.
The level of connectivity is designed to make all our lives easier and is largely incredibly useful. But there are some things to keep in mind to ensure your personal data is safe.
Any time you pair your smartphone to your car, be it via Bluetooth or an associated app, you are sharing the information stored on that smartphone. When connected, the car can read and display the journeys you have made, the texts you have sent and the contacts in your phonebook. All that information is stored onboard, which enables the car to understand more about you and to help make your life easier. But if you’re a Motability Scheme customer, what happens when you return your car at the end of your lease? Where does that personal information about you go?
What happens to your data
Once the car changes hands, the information that it holds from the device that used to be connected from it remains in its computer. A recent report on rental cars found that there is no clear policy on who is responsible for deleting the information stored on the car’s system. Because of this, whoever uses a car after you can easily identify previously connected smartphones and see past locations the vehicle has travelled, the numbers you called and anything else the car has stored.
If you provide information when connecting via Bluetooth or via the car’s companion app, much of that information will remain stored within the car until it is actively erased. With the higher-tech cars, unless you erase the data connecting your car to the app, you will still be able to control many of the features on the car you have returned—the opening and closing, temperature control, calling the emergency services.
How you can protect yourself
Erasing your data from your Motability Scheme car
Make sure you erase your personal details from the multimedia or infotainment system when you change cars. If you used the multimedia or infotainment system in your Motability Scheme car, ensure you do a factory reset before you hand back your car at the end of your lease, so that your personal details that may be stored on the system are removed. Information on this can be found in the manufacturer’s handbook or alternatively, you can ask your dealer to do this for you.
Happily, although they have no legal obligation to do so, many car manufacturers erase your personal details when the car is returned as a matter of policy. Ford is an example of one manufacturer who pays particular attention. “A master reset of the entertainment system is performed when vehicles are de-fleeted or reallocated,” says a spokesman for the company. “For connected vehicles, this master reset also deletes any links to associated FordPass (app) accounts, and returns the vehicle infotainment system to the same state it left the factory.”
Nobody wants to think that their information will ever fall into the wrong hands, and for most people, it will never be an issue. But taking steps to protect your personal information is simply good practice, just like we opt to password protect our Wi-Fi connections at home. It’s also important to remember that when you connect your smartphone to your Motability Scheme car or download the companion app, you are entering into an agreement and abiding by the terms and conditions of the car’s manufacturer, not a contract with the Scheme.
The process for erasing the data from your car’s records will differ from model to model, but look through the manufacturer’s handbook for the ‘factory reset’ option and follow the instructions to ensure all data is wiped and the system returned to its original settings. And if you’re in any doubt, ask your dealer to do this for you when you return the car.