Connected Cars Don’t Necessarily Disconnect Previous Owners When Resold

It’s up to you to wipe out your data and connections, not the dealer or manufacturer.

byJustin Hughes|
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Modern cars are more connected than ever—to your phone, to the internet, to Dunkin Donuts, and to anywhere else you can imagine. One former Volkswagen owner recently discovered that her connection to her car lingered even after her old car was sold to a new owner, reports The Verge.

Ashley Sehatti sold her 2015 Jetta back to her local VW dealer back in December. Like most car owners, she figured that was the end of it. So she was baffled when she continued to get monthly reports about her car's health. After receiving April's report, she attempted to log into her account for Car-Net, Volkswagen's connected car service. Much to Sehatti's surprise, she found that not only was her account still active, she still had access to her old car. She could see its current mileage, the status of its locks and lights, and, most disturbingly, its current location on a map.

Sehatti was not aware that she, not Volkswagen or her dealer, was responsible for disabling access to Car-Net when she sold the car. Its new owner likely didn't sign up for the Car-Net service, which meant that Sehatti's access remained available, even though she didn't even want it.

Volkswagen "values the privacy and security of consumer data, and is taking this customer concern very seriously," Catharina Mette, the head of technology communications for Volkswagen Group’s North Americas region, said in an emailed response to The Verge. "Our Car-Net Terms of Service explicitly outlines that as a subscriber, the customer has the responsibility to terminate the contract when selling their vehicle. This is a practice common in the industry."

Mette is correct, although the average car owner is unlikely to read the Terms of Service in any great detail, particularly when relinquishing ownership of the car. This is an issue affecting all manufacturers' connected car services, not just Volkswagen. General Motors' OnStar and Volvo's On Call services also put the burden of cancellation on the customer, although both companies also claim that a full reset of the car's system to erase such data is supposed to happen before cars are resold.

Connected services are not the only personal data that remains, either. Most rental cars I've driven have presented me with an error message stating that they were unable to connect to a previous driver's phone. Even the occasional press car I've reviewed has had numerous phones still paired with the infotainment system from before I got it. It's certainly necessary to pair your phone with the car to review it properly, but I couldn't believe how many people failed to unpair their phones before giving the car back.

The Internet of Things has brought the unintended consequences of privacy concerns to our cars, as well as our smartphones, tablets, and computers. For now, the safest thing to do is make sure you erase all traces of your existence from your car before turning it in.

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