It just became a little easier to find out how much your car knows about you.
A free website called Vehicle Privacy Report, from Atlanta-based Privacy4Cars, provides car owners with basic information about the kinds of information being collected and stored by their automobiles.
“Consumers today are unable to understand the privacy practices that surround vehicles. They don’t understand that cars collect data,” said Privacy4Cars founder Andrea Amico.
But depending on the vehicle, many cars constantly record their location, the speed at which they’re driven, how hard the driver is hitting the brakes, and even whether the car is driven a lot at night. And cars with built-in wireless communications links can be sharing this information with carmakers and other businesses at all times. Manufacturers don’t exactly keep these facts secret, but they bury them inside long and complex privacy documents that hardly anyone bothers to read.
Vehicle Privacy Report lets a user punch in their car’s vehicle identification number, or VIN, to get a rundown on the kinds of data captured by the car. The website doesn’t reveal the actual data being stored on the car. Instead, it provides general information about the manufacturer’s data-capture policies. The site also provides links to manufacturers’ privacy policies, along with an estimate of how long it would take to read them — usually a couple of hours.
Privacy4Cars plans to make money selling privacy protection services to car dealerships. The company provides software to help used car dealers erase old data left behind by a vehicle’s previous owners. The new website contains a feature that will let consumers see if a used car’s memory has been wiped. So far, only about 185 US and Canadian car dealerships have signed up for the Privacy4Cars service, so this feature isn’t all that useful.
But Vehicle Privacy Report does help alert car owners that every vehicle is a rolling database.
“Our mission is to be the first time consumers can transparently understand that their car is no longer a mechanical thing,” Amico said. “It’s a technology thing.”
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.