Your Car Is Spying On You

Since the 1970s, cars have had a computer as part of their basic kit. It began as an attempt to diagnose engine issues and has grown since then.

In the last few years, new cars have collected massive amounts of data on you, your driving habits, and derivative data created by assessing the original data.

In the excitement of purchasing a new car, buyers never notice they are signing all kinds of data releases that authorize this conduct.

Your car is spying on you and you gave them permission to do it.

What kind of data, Big Red Car?

Haha, lots of data. You will be bloody well amazed at how much data.

 1. The first font of data is that which can be gleaned from your basic purchase and ownership of the car — name, address, phone, email, means of payment, source of payment, location, state of registration, lien holder, license plate number, and insurance company.

Remember that new car has a crackerjack GPS in it and a number of other apps like handsfree calling. You are feeding data to that car from the instant you turn on the key and you fire up those apps.

“Frequently visited locations” on your GPS? You fed that data into the GPS, amigo. Isn’t that a road map of your life?

 2. From this basic data, the data app can immediately crawl the web and find other data — voter registration, state of registration (again), license plate number (again), drivers license number, criminal record, credit report, and more.

Before you have logged 100 miles that car and its data app know a lot about you.

 3. The car is filled with sensors and what do they do? They sense. These sensors manifest themselves when your seat shakes at you as you get too close to a passing car or the landscaping in a parking lot. These sensors are sophisticated. Your backup camera is a damn good camera.

Some cars can observe your level of fatigue and whether your head drops — all in the pursuit of driver safety mind you.

If you are in a car wreck, the sensors can realize that and call the EMS and the cops. It can tell how hard you braked and the weather conditions before you smashed into that tree. Sometimes this is done as part of a specific service such as OnStar.

With the GPS providing location information, the car can determine weather — dry or rain/snow, temperature, humidity.

The sensors know where you are headed and can sense the traffic around you.

 4. Now, the real fun begins as the car takes basic information and appends other data to it. The car knows what beach you go to, how long you stay, and if you got sunburned. The car knows how many times your kids asked, “Are we there yet?”

On Sunday morning at 11:00 AM, it knows you went to the Methodist church — it also knows when you sleep in — and then had brunch at the country club. It knows you spend 6 hours on Saturdays at the same country club playing golf and the marina where your boat is parked.

The car senses what fast food locations you frequent and whether you order a Big Mac or a quarter pounder. It can tell where you took your beloved on Valentine’s Day (how much she weighed in her seat) and where you took Mom on Mother’s Day.

If you have a crew cab pickup with a long bed and you had sex in the back seat at the drive-in, the data app knows. JK — probably, but not sure.

That car can tell if you buy at Sam’s or Costco and the weight of your purchases which correllates to how much you spend.

It can tell how often you go to the hospital and whether you get your teeth cleaned regularly. You don’t.

It senses where you go hunting and whether you shoot regularly at Red’s Indoor Range.

It knows if you drove to Jacksonville to see the Dawgs and the Gators at the Largest Cocktail Party in the world.

 5. A lot of this data mining was originally driven by insurance companies’ desire to “know” your driving habits. USAA insurance gives you a small discount if you allow their app to monitor your driving, but they then alter your premium based on your driving also.

Insurance companies want to know if the annual driving mileage is correct, how fast do you go, how do you accelerate, do you adhere to the speed limit, how hard do you brake, how long between pit stops, what time of day you drive, where do you take road trips to, and do you perform routine car maintenance regularly.

You can see why the insurance company wants to know all of this, but do they need to know if you’re a Methodist or a Republican?

 6. With all of this vehicle generated information there is another source of data — your general public profile and your social media presence. It knows your Insta account is filled with pictures of your damn tomatoes. It knows cause you told it and the whole world.

 7. On top of this is an emerging level of artificial intelligence that begins to get very creepy as a profile is built based on AI driven analysis. As an example, if the car senses you go to Red’s Indoor Range and to Academy, is it difficult to project you are a gun owner?

If you are a Republican gun owner, is it difficult to imagine you are a Second Amendment supporter and, thus, a viable target for a conservative Republican Congressional candidate? This is why you got a text with a gun friendly message soliciting a donation from that ex-military guy running for office in Louisiana.

So where does this data go, Big Red Car?

The first thing to know is you likely own all this data, but when you bought that car, you gave the car company rights to use, analyze, and sell it. Yes, dear reader, they SELL it and it is very valuable. They sell YOU!

 1. The car company uses it to develop a customer relationship with you to sell you more cars. If you and your spouse both own Subarus, guess what? You will be seeing a lot of marketing info when the mileage on your Subaru gets to the level at which the car company knows you normally trade in the old Subaru and buy a new one.

 2. This information — which is valuable AF — is sold to data brokers who further analyze it, combine it with other sources, and sell specific, carefully tailored packets of information to data consumers like political consultants and researchers of all stripes.

“Can I please have a database of all 6′ and taller, white Republican, Methodist men who are gun owners and who ski and drive a German car?’

“Of course. I have that data right here.”

 3. The insurance companies love this information as they believe it allows them to “price the actual risk.” Price the actual risk is the mantra in the insurance business.

 4. Your data ends up in the hands of market researchers, car companies, insurance companies, social media companies, and auto related services (Apple Car Play, Sirius, OnStar, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa).

 5. The government and law enforcement buys and/or “obtains” it to use for its own purposes. 

Wow, WTF, Big Red Car?

Yes, my reaction exactly. Did you have any idea that this was going on? I did not, but then I am a 1966 Impala Super Sport Chevy convertible and I don’t have any of that computer crap in my body.

What mischief might car companies be up to when you realize you are using Bluetooth to connect your cell phone — and it contents and apps — to your car to access your play list?

Bottom line it, Big Red Car, massage day

OK, fine. Data is gold. When you are in a modern car — anything 15 years old or newer — you are in a data vortex and that car, the car company, artificial intelligence are all sucking the data out of your life.

Car data, sensor data, web crawling, artificial intelligence — what could possibly go wrong?

I had no idea.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.