Action 9 Investigates: Your vehicle may be spying on you

Action 9 Investigates: Your vehicle may be spying on you

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Experts say more than 90 percent of new vehicles will likely be "connected" in just the next two years.

Most newer vehicles have navigation and infotainment systems which know where you go, where you eat, what music you like, and who your contacts are.

Many vehicles have computers which can track your driving habits, like how fast you go and whether you wear a seat belt.

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There's even an event data recorder, like a black box on an airplane.  It's usually in the airbag system.

There are cameras and not just outside the vehicle.  Some companies -- like General Motors, Subaru, and now Volvo -- are putting cameras inside vehicles, facing the driver, to warn you if you get tired or distracted.

Many newer vehicles also come with apps, like FordPass, which can direct you to the nearest parking, coffee shop, restaurant, or dealership.

Many people and groups worry about the potential privacy issues.

"I don't think that where I go and where I stop and what I do is the manufacturer's business," Ford owner Joey Aycock said.  "I don't feel like they have a right.  That's my information, not theirs."

"It's very susceptible to mischief," Joe Jerome with the Center for Democracy and Technology told Action 9.  "It isn't so much just that cars are collecting more and more data and have become computerized.  It's that they're collecting very sensitive information."

The federal safety agency, NHTSA, said these "technologies generate, use and may share a significant amount of vehicle data likely to be viewed by private citizens as sensitive and personal."

Car companies say they use that information to make your experience better and the vehicle safer. Sometimes, that means sharing the data with third parties.

"94 percent of crashes are attributable in some part to human error and I think technology can go a long way to bridge that gap," Lauren Smith with the Future of Privacy Forum said.  "But, at the same time, I think it requires a shift in how we're thinking about our cars and recognizing that, if we're having certain features, we may be trading information in exchange."

And all of that information paints a picture about you, a picture retailers and other businesses are willing to pay for.  One consulting firm predicts they'll pay up to $750 billion for it by the year 2030.  "A lot of this data is valuable to insurers," Jerome said.  "It's going to be incredibly valuable to employers to sort of monitor their employees."

The North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein told Action 9's Jason Stoogenke he believes the state should strengthen its privacy laws.

"I think North Carolina should strengthen our privacy laws,” Stein said.  “The information that companies collect about us is our information.  It's not theirs."

Congress has been talking about more privacy laws involving vehicle data, but hasn't introduced a bill. California passed an extensive privacy law last year, but most states -- including the Carolinas -- have not.

That said, 20 of the biggest automakers -- including all the ones mentioned above -- Ford, GM, Subaru, and Volvo -- have taken steps on their own.  They came up with this report on Consumer Privacy Protection Principles.

They agree to let customers know what information they collect and who they share it with.  They also agree to ask customers' permission first for the most sensitive data.

GM emailed Action 9 it takes "privacy very seriously."

Ford emailed Action 9 it protects customer privacy "by ensuring transparency and appropriate consent in the collection and use of all customer data."

To read those for yourself, go to the companies' websites.  Scroll to the bottom and you'll see their privacy policies.  They tend to be very broad and generic so still be smart about what information you share with your vehicle.

Also, be careful when you sell your car or return a rental (if you connected to the infotainment system).  Make sure you erase any information you stored, like your contacts and home address.  There are apps that can help with that.

>> Watch below as Action 9 Investigator Jason Stoogenke gives you quick steps to find out who your car company is sharing your information with.