Privacy has long been the Achilles heel of technology, but it turns out the worst offender might not be your smartphone, laptop, or even data breaches – but your car. And it's collecting data on a whole lot more than you think.
A new study by the Mozilla Project has revealed that cars are officially the “worst category of products for privacy,” naming and shaming big name manufacturers like Kia, Audi and Nissan for the alarming scope of personal information they collect – and what they do with it after they get it.
The worst of the worst? That distinction belongs to Elon Musk‘s EV brand Tesla, which says your car might break if you don't let it take your data for a ride!
However, you may be more concerned by the companies openly admitting to collecting data on the sex lives of car owners in their privacy policies. Especially given their habit of then selling such data on.
Named and Shamed: The Cars Collecting Your Private Data (and Selling It On)
Mozilla is most famous for its privacy friendly Firefox web browser, which paired with things like free VPNs can help boost your online privacy. What you may not know is that the organization also publishes regular reports under the Privacy Not Included (PNI) banner.
According to the latest Privacy Not Included report, the reputation of cars as “computers on wheels” isn't a good thing for drivers, as it means they collect vast amounts of data on their owners. This includes the most personal of personal information regarding your sex life.
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Kia and Nissan were both named and shamed here. Kia explicitly states it collects “information about your race or ethnicity, religious or philosophical beliefs, sexual orientation, sex life and political opinions,” while Nissan's fine print reveals it's keeping tabs on your “sexual activity.”
Worse still, 84% of the car brands investigated by Mozilla share this personal data with third-parties, including the data brokers targeted by software like Incogni). Of these, a whopping 76% sell it to make a quick buck, while a further 56% will hand it over to the police or other government bodies if prompted.
Tesla Tops Car Privacy Wall of Shame
Tesla is rated as the worst car for privacy, largely because of its AI chatbot being deemed untrustworthy. Mozilla's dossier, which is based on 600 hours of research, highlights that Tesla cars received every ‘privacy ding' possible. What set it apart is the fact that its AI-powered autopilot has been linked to multiple crashes, deaths and federal investigations – something not even the Peeping Toms at Kia and Nissan can match in terms of severity.
Mozilla further points out that where car owners are able to opt out of data collection regarding their vehicle, the plainly stated consequence is that the car probably won't work properly. While Tesla notes that “if you no longer wish for us to collect vehicle data or any other data from your Tesla vehicle, please contact us to deactivate connectivity,” the result could be “your vehicle suffering from reduced functionality, serious damage, or inoperability.”
Specifically, functionality such as “over-the-air updates, remote services, and interactivity with mobile applications and in-car features such as location search, Internet radio, voice commands, and web browser functionality rely on such connectivity” and are therefore only guaranteed to work in exchange for your data.
Tesla is noteworthy for topping the list, not least given CEO Elon Musk's general disregard for all things privacy, on which X starting to collect biometric data is the latest high profile example. However, it's worth noting that all of the 25 car makers probed as part of the Mozilla PNI study were given failing grades – a first in the seven-year history of the series.
How Cars Collect Your Personal Data – and What You Can Do About It
If this comes as a shock, Mozilla says it really shouldn't. When we're saying that cars are “computers on wheels,” what we mean is they're packed with all the cameras, microphones and internet connectivity necessary to bag a whole bunch of your personal data.
It follows that everything you do when you're in your car – from the conversations you have to the connected services and apps you use (such as Spotify or Google Maps) – is essentially leaking your data. The list of what's collected in exhaustive, including your name, address, phone number, and email address along with much more personal stuff like photos, calendar information, and even details on the driver’s race, genetic information, and immigration status.
We've often been surprised by how quickly and accurately things we might be interested in appear as highly targeted advertising on social media, even when we haven't actively Googled it. Now, we might finally know why.
Anyone itching to fight back should know that Mozilla has launched a petition calling on car companies to stop such invasive data collection practices.