Linking your car and your smartphone certainly comes with its risks.
Every piece of advanced vehicle gadgetry seems to come with some sort of snag. Tesla's semi-autonomous Autopilot system takes the stress out of the daily commute but has often been accused of causing severe accidents. And, while touchscreen interfaces look great, they can often be fussy to use on the move.
Another disturbing pitfall has been uncovered with regard to smart, connected vehicles. All those connectivity features and smartphone pairing capabilities we enjoy have created a situation where a massive amount of personal data relating to your vehicle can be shared via a so-called "vehicle forensics kit". According to The Intercept, such a kit was purchased by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
CBP paid MSAB, a Swedish data extraction firm, over $450,000 for the hardware. The agency asserts that the kit is "critical in CBP investigations as it can provide evidence [not only] regarding the vehicle's use, but also information obtained through mobile devices paired with the infotainment system."
The amount of data that the kit can reveal about your car and you is almost unending, including recent destinations, emails, navigation logs, social media feeds, and even specific vehicle events like "which doors are opened and closed at specific locations."
MSAB's technology is compatible with vehicles from manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Dodge, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
Some of the technologies that the CBP could plausibly tap into include Ford's in-car connectivity tech whereby hazardous road events are shared between cars. And, while a Nissan Altima tracking app cleverly alerted its owner that a dealership was misusing his car, this is exactly the kind of technology that the vehicle forensics kit could use to reveal extensive information about you and your car. While CBP's use for the tech may be justifiable in some cases, it's concerning just how much data can be obtained from unsuspecting drivers.
"It would appear that this technology can be applied like warrantless phone searches on anybody that CBP pleases," said Jacinta Gonzalez from Mijente, a Latinx advocacy organization. For owners of new vehicles with advanced connectivity features accessible via their mobile devices, it's certainly food for thought.