Where Is Your Car Location Data Going?

Nowadays, practically all new cars are equipped with sophisticated GPS navigation systems that provide drivers with maps, turn-by-turn directions, and real-time traffic information, making it easier for them to get to their destination as quickly as possible. Of course, drivers get a lot of use out of these features, which can help them save a lot of time, and money, by showing the most fuel-efficient routes. But, there is another side to navigation systems, one that will likely stir controversy and is expected to raise a few red flags with privacy advocates, as it recently became clear that car makers and navigation companies use them to collect data related to drivers’ location and movement, and store them for an unspecified period of time.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced recently that it has conducted a study on how data gathered through in-car navigation functions are being kept and what they are being used for. The study was commissioned by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the privacy, technology and the law subcommittee, in an effort to obtain as much relevant information as possible regarding location privacy, which he could use to support his new location-privacy bill.

What the GAO report highlights is that navigation providers are not transparent enough when it comes to notifying consumers about how they use and share location data. The study reviewed the way several carcompanies, including Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, as well as some of the most prominent portable navigation device manufacturers, such as Garmin and TomTom, obtain car-related data, and whether they comply with existing guidelines regarding data protection. The report shows that while these companies that provide in-car location-based services do obtain consent from their customers before they collect their data, they don’t give any information as to how they plan to use and share that data and for how long they intend to store them. They also don’t inform users about whom they share the data with, and don’t allow them to delete the information they have collected after a certain period of time.

Another important finding this study has discovered is that almost all companies share data with third parties, but they don’t specify exactly with whom the data is shared, which gives cause for concern. Privacy advocates are concerned that location data could be shared with law enforcement agencies, telecommunication companies, or even insurance providers. If this is true, it means that the government, or various private companies can monitor your movement and know where you are at all times via GPS systems and V2V technology, which is obviously an invasion of privacy. Also, someone can use the data to steal a driver’s identity, committing all sorts of crimes or running up debts using someone else’s name.

Even though companies providing in-car location services are claiming that they take all necessary steps to make sure they protect the privacy of consumers, they still don’t give any firm evidence that they won’t try and sell the data they collect to third parties, which is highly likely to occur, considering how lucrative it could be for them, as mobile advertisers, as well as insurance companies, are certainly willing to pay a lot of money to get their hands on such important information, that could help them promote their products and services to a wider audience and enhance customer loyalty. That’s why Senator Al Franken is adamant that a strict location privacy legislation has to be put in place, in order to preserve consumer privacy rights.