In November 2010, I wrote a You Auto Know© article entitled “GPS Finding Your Way Home.” The facts in the scenario involved a situation where a customer trades in her vehicle and has a factory-installed GPS as an option. The customer did not scrub the vehicle of the information and the dealership did not perform this task either. Subsequently, the vehicle is sold and the customer’s home is broken into. It was determined that the thieves used the GPS information in the vehicle to burglarize the former owner’s home and the customer subsequently filed suit against the dealership.
Recently, I have received telephone calls regarding the dealership’s responsibility to “scrub” information from a trade in. As you know, information sharing technology has come light years since 2010. Most if not all new cars sync the vehicle’s information center with the customer’s cell phone to make hands-free driving easier. However, the upscale devices in the vehicle do substantially more than assist in just telephone calls. In essence, the vehicle will retain and store most, if not all, information that is contained on the customer’s phone and portable iPad or laptop. The average person may not be able to access the information that is stored in the vehicle’s system, but a determined hacker will and can access the information. As you know, the information contains names, addresses, your daily driving habits, living patterns, garage door codes, favorite spots to visit and, in effect, provides a snapshot of your lifestyle. In the 2010 article, I stated that thieves were targeting portable GPS devices in vehicles to find and burglarize homes as stated in many media sources. Consumers were encouraged to remove the GPS devices from obvious areas in the vehicle and place them in secure areas or take them from the vehicle when it is parked so that all personal information can remain safe. Since 2010, an individual’s cell phone is used, in the majority of times, as the GPS device so it is removed from the vehicle but the information is still stored. Also, many vehicles now have their own direction programs. I know when I get into my vehicle it alerts me as to the time it will take to get from my home to my office and the best route to take. I knew the National Security Agency was watching us all, however, I never realized that my own vehicle was keeping tabs on me.
I believe the same advice is applicable today as I provided in 2010. The “customer should read his or her owner’s manual and learn how to delete all personal information and other entries contained in the vehicle’s customer information center. If the customer does not know how to, the dealership should instruct the customer on how to remove the information. If the customer is unwilling to do so, the dealership should advise the customer that the dealership is not responsible for any personal information left in the customer information center in the vehicle.” At that time, I had suggested that the customer sign a disclaimer that the dealership is not responsible for any electronic information not scrubbed from the vehicle.
As of the writing of this You Auto Know©, this author does not know of any cases against manufacturers or dealerships concerning the theft of a customer’s personal information due to the fact that it was not scrubbed from the vehicle information center. However, I would certainly recommend that dealerships perform a factory reset and otherwise clear (scrub) all data and codes from vehicles being traded in and/or purchased at auction or otherwise. As you know, if there is a new way for the plaintiff’s bar to file a consumer lawsuit, they will try to do so. It is better to be proactive.
Robert A. Poklar, Esq.
Weston Hurd LLP
The Tower at Erieview
1301 East 9th Street, Suite 1900
Cleveland, Ohio 44114-1862
p: 216.687.3243; f: 216.621.8369