How safe is personal data saved in our car’s computer systems?

Most cars these days are kitted out with sophisticated, high tech computer systems. They are intuitive enough to keep detailed logs of personal information including our contacts, journey’s and home addresses.

Worryingly, personal data stored in your car’s computer software could be stolen after it has been written off. This is all precious information that could easily be accessed by hackers if your vehicle is involved in an accident and must be scrapped.


The Sun recently reported how an investigation by expert online hacker GreenTheOnly found that the computer systems installed in Teslas store a large amount of personal data, even after the car has been sent to the scrap heap.

Personal data from synced devices had been stored on scrapped Tesla Model S, Model X and two Model 3s.

Residential addresses and video footage shot by the vehicle’s cameras had even been stored on the car’s computer system.

Drivers can wipe information from the Tesla database, but that technology is very expensive.

It can cost up to £765 on a cable and downloading software from Tesla to remove data stored on the computer.

Cars produced today are essentially smartphones with wheels. For drivers, this has meant many new features, but carmakers are getting much, much more: They’re constantly collecting valuable data from our vehicles.

Today’s cars are equipped with telematics, in the form of an always-on wireless transmitter that constantly sends vehicle performance and maintenance data to the manufacturer.

They know how fast we drive, where we live, how many children we have — even financial information. Connect a phone to a car, and it knows who we call and who we text.

But who owns and, ultimately, controls that data? And what are carmakers doing with it?

Most consumers have no idea vehicles collect data. We know that car makers use it to improve car performance and safety. And we know they have the ability to sell it to third parties.

Location data

Location data collected by cars allow companies to advertise to you based on where you live, work or frequently travel. Data gathered from voice-command technology could also be useful to advertisers.

The data on your driving habits — how fast you drive, how hard you brake, whether you always use your seatbelt — could be valuable to insurance companies.

On a smartphone you can choose to turn off the Location Services feature, but there is no such option on cars.

A Tesla spokesperson told the Sun: “Tesla already offers options that customers can use to protect personal data stored on their car, including a factory reset option for deleting personal data and restoring customised settings to factory defaults, and a Valet Mode for hiding personal data (among other functions) when giving their keys to a valet.

“That said, we are always committed to finding and improving upon the right balance between technical vehicle needs and the privacy of our customers.”


Richard Billyeald, Chief Technical Officer at Thatcham Research, said: “When people pair their phones with their cars, they need to be aware that, in some instances, they could be downloading personal information and data to the car.

“Sometimes the vehicle will ask them to confirm they want to download it, while in others, the car might do it automatically when you pair your phone.

“So firstly, you need to check and make sure you are aware of the implications and want to do this, by either consulting the driver’s handbook or speaking with the dealership. And check that your personal data can be permanently deleted from the car’s system before you do pair your phone.

“Secondly, when do you come to sell your car, have it scrapped, or even loan or borrow someone’s car, then if your phone has been paired, it is your responsibility to erase any information that might have been stored on the car’s system.”

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