Driver's hands on steering wheel of a car
Dudarev Mikhail
By Allison Martin

Big Brother is always watching. That's what we've come to believe, at least in our online lives where our personal viewing habits are tracked and used by advertisers to try to sell us stuff.

But shutting down your computer and other electronic devices allows for a little private time, right? Well, not necessarily. Not if you're driving in your car.

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson discusses the ways in which your driving habits can be recorded and tracked.

Your Car Is Spying on You

Electronic Data Recorders

Nowadays, most new cars have an electronic data recorder, which notes what your car's sensors are picking up about your speed, braking and other factors like use of safety equipment in the event of a crash. In essence, the EDR is your vehicle's black box, recording what transpired in your car's systems in the seconds before and during a crash.

"EDRs do not collect any personal identifying information or record conversations and do not run continuously," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says.

While the data can be used to improve car safety, a recent article in Consumer Reports magazine countered: "Still, there is concern about the accuracy of the data, who owns it, and how it's being used. The NHTSA says that it considers the information the property of the vehicle owner, and automakers say that the data is accessed only with the owner's consent." However, only 14 states have laws to protect the privacy of EDR information, Consumer Reports says.


Remote connection services, such as GM's (GM) OnStar, Ford (F) Sync and Chrysler's UConnect, come with an array of benefits, like navigation services, vehicle tracking, roadside dispatch and assistance in the event of an emergency, diagnostic checks and remote updates.

But does it come at the expense of the driver's privacy? Consumer Reports wrote: "Though EDRs capture only a few seconds of data, telematics systems provide a regular stream about a car's location and other parameters. And it's not clear what data is collected and what is done with it. Even automakers don't seem sure about the best ways to use it.

Portable and Mobile Navigation Devices

When you're uncertain about the route to a particular destination, it's second nature to power up the GPS on your dash or smartphone. While they definitely save time, your location information is being transmitted in order for it to work.

This transmission of data by GPS devices and telematics systems has prompted privacy concerns and has the attention of Congress.

The Kicking Tires blog reported: "The Government Accountability Office audited privacy practices for 10 providers of navigation or telematics services in 2013: the Detroit Three, Nissan (NSANY), Toyota (TM), Honda (), portable navigation providers Garmin (GRMN) and TomTom, and smartphone navigation developers Google Maps (GOOG) and Telenav (TNAV). GAO interviewed privacy advocates, investigated exactly what those companies do with your information and compared it to industrywide best practices for privacy protection." In a 32-page report to Congress, GAO found the providers fall well short of those practices.

Insurance Devices

Auto insurance companies are offering discounts of up to 30 percent that could cost you privacy behind the wheel. Many leading car insurers -- such as Progressive, State Farm and Allstate -- provide a device that plugs into your car and records information like how fast you drive, how hard you brake and when you're on the road. It's called pay-as-you-go or usage-based insurance.

It's also the source of privacy concerns. Ron Lieber of The New York Times wrote: "Usage-based insurance, as the program is known, generates vast amounts of data. While insurance companies are pledging to keep it to themselves for now, some experts believe that we're only a few years away from companies' contributing complete driver histories into a central industry database. Then, we'd all have driver scores like the numbers that FICO (FICO) helps creditors calculate, which would follow us around whenever we shopped for a new auto insurance policy." Lieber also noted that some insurance companies would like to start tracking where you drive.

Ways to Protect Yourself

Consumer Reports has some recommendations to protect your privacy, including:
  • Keep a low profile. "Don't share self-identifying information, such as your Facebook (FB) status or publicize your location on social media. Also, don't store an address labeled 'home' in a navigation system; instead, store the address of a public place."
  • Use your vehicle's phone system with caution. "Don't download contacts to the car's phone system, and turn off the phone's Bluetooth connection to the car when you exit."
  • Skip automated tolls if you can.
  • Turn off your cellphone and remove the battery. Even if the phone is off, location data is still being transmitted, CR says.
  • Take your portable GPS with you. And if you sell a car with GPS, make sure your old data is no longer stored in the device.
  • Actually read the privacy policy before you sign up.
-Karen Datko contributed to this post.

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Wait until the "driverless cars" come out. Google will run your life.

August 22 2014 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Obama said we are too stupid to know the difference. We should shut up and bend over for his RFID chip.

August 22 2014 at 6:24 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

All the good little sheep will continue to believe it's for their benefit.

August 22 2014 at 3:18 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Here's an issue to consider. In Illinois, if you use the I-Pass or an E-Z Pass from another state, you get to drive through the express lanes at toll plazas. If you pay cash, then you have to go through the cash box, and the tolls are double.

I-Pass is meant ot reduce the congestion at toll plazas, by getting people to use the transponder.

The Tollway Authority has said repeatedly that data is only used, without identities, to monitor traffic volumes for traffic reports and future construction. Data is not turned over to the state police for purposes of catching speeders.

August 22 2014 at 12:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

RomneyCare is okay but ObamaCare is bad unless of course you have pre-existing condition(s).

August 21 2014 at 10:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
5 replies to kafienkarl's comment

If anybody thinks they have any privacy you are sadly mistaken.

August 21 2014 at 7:46 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to motown571's comment

Expecially if you sign up.for obamacare on

August 21 2014 at 9:08 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

It's much worse than the article describes. The Federal Highway Administration has plans to essentially make every road a toll road by having your telematic equipped vehicle store and report information about where you drove and when so it can be dowloaded and a bill can be sent to you with extra charges if you drove a congested road during peak hours. There are already several test cities with pylons to collect this information.

The purpose for this strategy is fuel taxes no longer are adequate to pay for maintaining the highway network and voting for higher fuel taxes is a non-starter. Hybrid cars (Prius, etc) are seen as a problem since they take up space on the road (congestion cost) but pay very low fuel tax.

Communication works both ways too. In Japan, there's a pilot project wherein the roadway takes control of the vehicle (without your knowledge or consent) to limit the driver's speed on a dangerous mountain highway.

August 21 2014 at 2:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Terry and Mandy

We currently collect enough fuel taxes to keep our streets and roads maintained. However, once a financial emergency is declared at the state or local level, the funds from the fuel taxes can be transferred to the general fund to be used for any govt. expenses. So, the fund is constantly depleted for other uses and is not used for street, highway, and bridge repair. And it seems that local, county, and state governments are always in a state of "financial emergency:

August 21 2014 at 1:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Terry and Mandy's comment

I've read that, despite Americans driving more, revenues from gas taxes, especially at the state and local level, are declining as cars beome more efficient, or become hybrids and electric.

This about it. A Tesla S or a Nissan Leaf owner pays no gas tax. Yet they are still driving, adding to the traffic volume that causes roads to wear out over time.

I think it's Oregon that would like to go to a system in which every car reports how many miles it drives and where. Then, the state sends a bill, with the funds distributed for state, county, and local road funds. This would replace the gas tax.

Some people might like it, if they insist on driving larger vehicles that use more gas, since a person with a Chevy Suburban who drove 10K miles a year could pay the same tax as person with a Smart Car or Mini Cooper who drove the same number of miles.

August 22 2014 at 12:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kent's comment

What would be more fair is a ton-mile fee for road usage, witha two-ton minimum.

August 22 2014 at 9:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

Incorrect. In fact, it is the reverse of what you claim. It is doubtful that gas taxes EVER covered the cost of biilding and maintaining roads. And it is this high cost of roads that puts governments in constact fiscal crisis.

August 22 2014 at 9:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tony's comment

Pensions and public compensation hits way harder.

August 22 2014 at 5:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Interesting steps to avoid but to time consuming and since the government lies about accessing data I'm sure if they want the info your powerless to stop it or stop them from using it!

August 21 2014 at 10:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I drive a 1967 Mercury Cougar. No Computers at all. We just got done disconnecting Onstar in one of my friends cars. Spy all gone

August 21 2014 at 10:00 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply