Protect your car tech privacy with these six simple tips

Your car stores a lot of your personal information. Here are a few simple steps that you can take to help protect your privacy.

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
5 min read

2013 Porsche Boxster

Today's cars are filled with loads of dashboard tech: GPS navigation to guide you, data connections that increase the safety and convenience, Bluetooth hands-free calling systems to keep you in contact with the important people in your life. But no one wants to manually input his or her home address at the end of every day or memorize every number in an address book, so in order to work seamlessly, this tech stores quite a bit of your personal data.

Much in the same way that you think about protecting the personal data in your smartphone, PC, and social media, you should also think about the information stored in your ride. Listed below are a few ways to protect your private data and protect yourself when behind the wheel.

Mazda6 Bluetooth hands-free calling
Pairing your phone with Bluetooth often syncs your address book and contacts with the car's memory. Josh Miller/CNET

Clear your address book when returning a rental
Many new rental cars now feature Bluetooth hands-free calling systems and, for longer-term rentals, you'll probably want to pair your phone. But when it's time to return the rental at the end of your trip, you'll want to take a moment to clear the recent calls, saved numbers, and other data. This is usually as simple as popping into the Bluetooth setup menu and removing your phone from the Paired Phones list, which will usually clear your logs along with it.

If it doesn't, or if you just want to make sure, look for a "clear private data" or factory reset option in the menu for a scorched-earth approach.

Disconnect from the cloud before selling your car
The newest cars on the market feature Web-connected services that bring data from your favorite apps and social-networking services to the dashboard. For example, Mercedes-Benz Online stores your Facebook events, Google Local search, and Yelp reviews data, if you've input them during setup, for relatively easy access during navigation and status update.

It may be a while before you sell your 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550, but when the time comes, you'll want to be sure to clear the log-in data for the telematics system. Forget this step and you could be handing over access to your Facebook Wall, Friends, and so on, as well as the power to update your status from the dashboard. (The Comand system is so slow that it would take the new owners all week to do so, but they could conceivably do it.)

Mercedes-Benz SL 550 Roadster
Certain Mercedes-Benz vehicles will store your Facebook log-in info, giving others access to your data. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Mercedes-Benz isn't the only automaker making systems that store this sort of information, so be sure to reset the infotainment system to its factory-fresh state before handing the car over to its new owner. If you forget that step, or simply want to be extra-sure that your accounts are protected, log in to your social networks online and revoke the infotainment system's privileges from the server side. With Facebook, for example, go to Settings and then Apps and find Mercedes-Benz Online and then click the little "X" to revoke the service's privileges. Repeat for any other social networks that you may have linked

Reset your garage door opener when selling your car
If your vehicle features a HomeLink-type integrated remote that is paired with your garage door opener, your vehicle is essentially a gigantic key to your house. You wouldn't toss your keys to just any stranger, so before you sell your car, you'll want to check your instruction manual for instructions on resetting the garage door opener.

It's as easy as holding a button combination until a light starts blinking. For HomeLink, for example, you'll hold the two outer buttons, but the specific combination varies from vehicle to vehicle.

Securing your Car data
Watch this: Personal Data in Your Car: Wipe it out.

Protect your home by making your car's GPS less accurate
If someone with malicious intent gains access to your vehicle -- perhaps a thief or a shady valet -- they also gain access to the addresses stored in your GPS' memory. Combined with an integrated garage opener, they'll essentially have a map to your house, the keys to the door, and the knowledge that no one is at home.

So, instead of setting your home address to your house number, consider setting the Home shortcut to a nearby intersection, the entrance to your neighborhood, a nearby business, or just your freeway exit. You should be able to find your way home from there and if the wrong people gain access to your car, they won't have directions to your specific house.

This trick works just as well for portable GPS devices and your navigation app of choice on your smartphone. Also, be sure to lock your registration paperwork (with your address printed on it) in your glove compartment and use a valet key when handing your car over to deny shady types access to the locked storage areas.

Magellan SmartGPS
Portable navigation devices retain favorite and recent locations, as well as address book information. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Get rid of your data before getting rid of a portable navigation device
Portable navigation devices have undergone a massive boom in features over the last few years. Modern devices feature Bluetooth connectivity, data connectivity, and more.

So when it comes time to get rid of your PND (maybe you're selling or giving it to a relative because you do all of your navigation via smartphone), you'll want to clear all of this data. A factory reset option can be found in the settings menu and will clear your address book, recent destinations, favorite locations, and settings.

On models that feature social-network integration, such as Foursquare location check-ins, your log-in data will also be cleared. You can also block access on the server side by logging into your Foursquare account and locating the Settings. Select Connected Apps, find the service associated with your GPS device, and click Disconnect to revoke access.

Beware what you share when updating your status
Sometimes the biggest privacy leak isn't the tech in your car, but the information that you chose to broadcast to social networks. Apps and services like Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, and Instagram allow users to attach location data to check-ins and status updates.

Who can forget Please Rob Me and WeKnowYourHouse, satirical sites designed to raise awareness about oversharing. These sites demonstrated just how easy it could be for someone to determine where you live and when you're not there based solely on publicly available status updates, tweets, and check-ins with location data.

To protect yourself, you'll want to make sure to educate yourself about the privacy settings for the social-networking services that you use. When setting up Facebook or Foursquare connectivity in a car or with a PND, users can choose to whom these updates will be sent. Avoid public updates, sticking to your Friends.

Other services -- such as Twitter, which is supported by BMW and Mini Connected -- may not offer such granular privacy customization, so consider setting your entire account to private or setting up a second private account that is only shared with trusted friends and family, if you'd like to use location-based services like this.