Washington Post Hacked a Chevy Volt to See What Information Your Car Is Quietly Collecting

And more importantly, what your car is sharing with third-parties.

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Washington Post Hacked a Chevy Volt to See What Information Your Car Is Quietly Collecting © Washington Post Hacked a Chevy Volt to See What Information Your Car Is Quietly Collecting

If you own a smartphone—you do, don't you?—then your personal information is as good as gold for companies looking to target each and every consumer demographic. From the type of music you listen to what apps you use and especially what you search for on Google, there are firms out there paying real money for real info about the person behind the screen. Now, whether or not your name is attached to that data is a toss-up, but one thing's for sure: this isn't the only area of your life that's being monitored, especially if you drive a modern car.

The Washington Post recently conducted a test to investigate what your daily driver and, more specifically, the people who built it know about your everyday life. This involved a detailed deconstruction of a 2017 Chevy Volt's infotainment system with Jim Mason, a Caltech-trained engineer doing the hacking. During the experiment, they discovered an incredible amount of intel that may seem insignificant at first but is certainly valuable to those looking to earn your dollar—and track your habits.

First, by working with "a laptop, special software, a box of circuit boards, and dozens of sockets and screwdrivers," Mason gained access to the Chevy's onboard infotainment system. This is linked to the vehicle's navigation tech as well as, in most cases, the driver's phone. Both are deep wells of information that clue automakers, along with potential information buyers, into your everyday routine and interests.

From The Post:

What's more, they were able to view specifics tied back to the author's phone along with a man named Doug's, who lent his Volt to the test.

The degree of tracking was equally as great in an infotainment system the group bought off eBay, in which they could see the former owner's favorite place to eat, their most frequently visited Gulf gas station, and even a log of calls with someone listed in their contacts as "Sweetie." 

This isn't a phenomenon unique to General Motors; instead, some other companies record location data every few minutes even when you're not using the car's navigation system, according to The Post.

With electric vehicles being ushered in as the next wave of personal transportation, these practices could grow exponentially with cars completely relying on computers and similar tech to operate.   

What's most troubling, though, is that automakers often aren't required to share what info of yours they may gather and distribute—this usually boils down to the fine print in auto purchase contracts. “Nothing happens without customer consent,” a GM spokesperson told The Post. Onboard services like GM's OnStar are baked into millions of cars, sometimes without the owners understanding what these features entail; however, since they sign and initial on each dotted line, they're waving their right to prohibit the sharing of individual-specific data.

Collectively, automakers can supply this info to all types of companies that want to alter your typical preferences to those that benefit them, such as swaying a person that usually eats at Tim Horton's to go to McDonald's instead. This can be achieved through third-party apps or advertisements that'll soon be popping up on the screens of new cars.

The full investigation is worth a read, and it's something to be conscious of before you allow every app, device, and car access to your location and personal info.

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