Connecting your phone to your car could make personal information vulnerable

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Many modern cars either synch or "clone" your smartphone to a screen in the vehicle which helps keep you safer on the road. But there is a consumer warning about your personal information being left behind.

You wouldn't unlock your phone and give it to a stranger, so the same rule should apply when you turn in a rental or trade in your vehicle, with your phone still connected.

A Glenview man's car display was synched to his phone. He turned his luxury car in at the end of the lease, leaving behind his phone's information: his home address, work address and other places he visited.

"When people connect their phone to the car, what they're not realizing, probably, is they're creating a mini clone of their phone inside the vehicle," said Andrea Amico, who runs Privacy 4 Cars. "And so, what's really happening is that if you bring back your lease return, you're trading your rental, and that personal information is not deleted, it's going to stay in there forever."

Privacy 4 Cars is a technology company which works primarily with dealers, auto auctions and car rental companies to help them delete information on cars.

"The apps you're using, calendar entries, emails, logins to different types of services," explained Amico. "Not to mention a lot of metadata that is associated with your phone that makes it easy to re-identify you."

Amico's company found that Glenview man's information, and showed the I-Team several other examples of cars at other local dealerships where people turned in their cars with the phone information like contact lists still there.

Most vehicles do show you a disclaimer when you connect, informing you that information may be captured, stored, sometimes even shared.

Experts said deleting personal information can be a complicated step-by step process in the settings. You can find instructions in the manual, or call and email the manufacturer to get instructions. You can also search online for video instructions, based off of the make and model of your vehicle.

Finally, you can ask your auto dealer or rental car company to delete and disconnect your phone, in front of you, when you return a car.
Privacy 4 Cars said it also offers free instructions on its app.

"It is a huge worry for people, you know, who has their information. What are they doing with it? Who is getting access to it and what does that mean for me?" said U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL 9).

Schakowsky is Chairwoman of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, and said upcoming legislation on privacy could include addressing the issue of data left behind in vehicles.

"Up and down the line, we should not totally put the burden on the consumer, to make sure that they do all kinds of things to protect their, their data," she said. "We want to have the devices in a way that makes sure that people can feel confident that their information is not being stolen, used, sold."

Schakowsky also said potential legislation could also ensure manufacturers are doing enough to educate consumers.

"We went to 17 dealerships recently to do an audit, and we discovered that consumers could find the personal information of the previous owners in 88% of those dealerships," Amico said.

The I-Team reached out to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry group, about the issue. In a brief statement the organization would only say it prioritizes the safety of America's traveling public, including their data.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.