Modern cars know frightening details about us. What about classics?

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Mozilla, the San Francisco-based internet foundation and software company responsible for the Firefox browser, considers itself something of a public-minded curator of online issues, including privacy. In 2017, it started a buyer’s guide called *Privacy Not Included (the asterisk is theirs), “a guide about the privacy and security of connected toys, gadgets, and smart home products.”

Since then Mozilla has reviewed dozens of products.

But nothing, it says, sucks up your private data like automobiles.

“Nowadays,” Mozilla found, “our cars are anything but a private space—they are full blown data collection nightmares on wheels.”

Do tell, Mozilla.

Cipia dms technology

“New Mozilla research has revealed that popular global car brands—like Chevrolet, Nissan, Toyota, Kia, Audi, Jeep, Honda, Volkswagen, and more—are collecting your deeply personal data, like your genetic information and sexual activity.” Woe to the poor spy sitting in a laboratory somewhere, collecting my “sexual activity” data. He’s likely working crossword puzzles, trying not to fall off his stool from boredom.

“This invasive harvesting of information,” Mozilla continues, “is collected via a web of sensors, microphones, cameras, and the phones, apps, and connected services you use in your vehicle. All 25 car brands we researched earned our *Privacy Not Included warning label—making cars the official worst category of products for privacy that we have ever reviewed.”

Nissan, for example, takes it on the chin: “So, how is Nissan at privacy? We’re not going to mince words here: THEY STINK AT PRIVACY! They are probably the worst car company we reviewed and that says something because all car companies are really bad at privacy. Believe us when we say this: Nissan’s privacy policy is probably the most mind-boggling creepy, scary, sad, messed up privacy policy we have ever read. Here’s why: They come right out and say they can collect and share your sexual activity, health diagnosis data, and genetic information and other sensitive personal information for targeted marketing purposes …”

A fitting tune for this shot that is currently on NissanConnect’s landing page. Nissan

I’ll pause while you Nissan owners consult your owner’s manual, or wherever car companies print those privacy policy alerts. And I’ll pause for another moment while you try to remember what you recently said, or texted, or listened to, or did in the back seat of your Altima.

Mozilla has similar reviews of the other car companies, evidently based on the companies’ printed privacy policies, rather than any inside information or examples of how they misuse the data they glean.

Seriously, I should be more upset about this than I am, but I’ve always figured my cars and trucks know more about me than anyone. I just never suspected anyone else would be interested.

Some examples of how my cars knew me better than I knew myself:

My Plymouth Roadrunner: Hurst four-speed, a 400-cubic-inch four-barrel with secondaries so big, and thirsty, you could drop a half-dollar down them. A big toolbox in the trunk, and I needed it, plus Hot Rod magazines with ads circled. The car knew before I did that my drag racing career was doomed; I figured it out after roasting exactly two B&M Racing clutches. “Buy an automatic,” it was trying to tell me.

My Chevrolet Corvette: I became a Corvette owner, hook, line and sinker, and branded jacket. I still think the view of the left front fender from the driver’s seat is the sexiest thing in the automotive world, and I don’t care who (hear that, Nissan?) knows it. Just look at any Corvette. It knows it looks good!

My Ford Ranchero: Usually with a dirt bike in the back and a stack of Dirt Bike magazines on the seat. I was going to be a professional motocross rider, lacking only one thing: Talent. I was good at falling off, not much else. There were more traces of blood inside the Ranchero than in a Law & Order episode. Medical data is valuable, I hear.

My Pontiac Trans Am: Yes, it was 1977, and I bought it right before Smokey and the Bandit hit theaters. It had a 23-channel CB radio. I had big sunglasses and wore a lot of black. Girlfriend Brenda sort of favored Sally Field but it was, I swear, just a coincidence.

My Datsun 240Z: I became a Man Of The World with my first foreign car, which is what we called them then. Joined the club, went autocrossing, was as good at that as I was motocross, but I fell down less. The Datsun could tell I was going places, maybe even growing up a little bit.

My Dodge Power Wagon: This was my John Denver, Rocky Mountain High, pearl snap-button shirts and Timberlands phase, difficult when you live in Louisiana, where the highest point is Driskill Mountain, 535 feet above sea level. For a story, I hiked to the top. Some readers took the story seriously. “You call that a hike? I climbed Mount Airy!” Good for you.

My wife’s Mini Cooper: She died from a stroke, and it was a month before I could bring myself to sit in her car. Two hairbrushes, a dozen hairbands that looked as though they were shot into every corner. An empty latte from Starbucks in the cupholder. A photo of Dude, her dog. A George Strait CD in the player. A birthday card for me, unsigned. I miss her.

Yeah. Our old cars know us better than anybody. And they keep it to themselves.




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    Ouch, the last paragraph broke my heart—I was unaware of this. My sincere condolences. You remain one of my favorite writers, and I’m sure she supported you in many ways.

    I have two you pump the pedal to start. Not too worried about them. I have three with computers. Two are in the 90s and I’m not too worried about what kind of analog telemetry they might be sending out. The third is 2012. I am sure it is updating the mothership regularly, but I doubt if it is sending a whole lot since it is before the infotainment craze. Probably not buying anything much newer than that, at least not without finding out how to remove the transponder and disable all of the automated driving features first

    Steven, please accept my condolences for the loss of your wife.
    I drove my mother’s Honda for several months after she passed, and it was tough for awhile. Slowly, it wore off and I finally decided to trade it in on a vehicle that I really wanted. A young guy at the dealership with a new wife, knowing who’d owned it, immediately bought it and gave it a good home. I did keep the blanket that she used to cover her back seat, and it now covers the back seat in my Jeep.
    When our daughter died we inherited her dog and her 4Runner. We decided the truck was the dog’s car and we use it to haul her around everywhere. Since Sophie (the dog) seems so happy to be driven around in it, we think it ended up in the right job. My wife ordered a personalized plate for it that reads “4Sophie” – and I constantly have to clean drool off the rear passenger door where Sophie hangs her head out as we stop at red lights.
    I like to think that both my mom and daughter would be happy to know that their vehicles continued to serve people (and dogs!) well.
    I do not want to think what tales some of my old vehicles (classics or otherwise) could or would tell if they could.

    My condolences too… These things are never easy.

    You’ve provided a good, scary, wake-up article, particularly for all conspiracy-minded folks out there.
    Orwell + 39…

    I love the tongue-in-cheek (but honest) personality descriptions of all your previous vehicles.
    I could do those too, but discretion takes precedence.
    There may be some sentience under those hoods after all.

    The funny thing about the Orwell prognostification is that it is not the government doing it, it is private business, and we generally agree to it in exchange for convenience

    As a car mag once suggested, VW’s of about 60 years ago were “imported”, while such things as Renault, Morris, Fiat, etc., were “foreign”.

    Another good story, I look for your name, great writing. A lot of Peter Egan in there. Very sorry to hear about your wife. Had no idea.
    Thanks again.

    Just a small step from Covid times where the government colluded with big tech companies to banish or suppress “disfavored opinions about Covid protocols and origin theories” to one where the government colludes with car companies to make cars inoperable or limited in scope for people whose behaviors or opinions are disfavored by the government. (“Oh, that could never happen here, could it?!”)

    Just another reason to drive an old(er) screenless, cameraless car.

    There’s almost no way to protest this (mis)use of our information–it is baked into the designs and systems of every new vehicle. The only way I can protest is to simply not drive them, and I don’t. For the last 8 years, my daily has been a 2001 Lexus ES. I just purchased a “new” daily driver–a 2004 Lexus SC430. Hopefully there will be some innovative genius who can design a simple USB plug-in or something which blocks the transmission of such data altogether. We are slowly but surely being homogenized into completely predictable, brainwashed cattle, to the great profit of the very few. And if you don’t believe that’s actually happening, and has been for years, well, I admire your steadfast refusal to see reality for what it is.

    Who cut up all these onions in this article? What is wrong with my eyes?

    My sincere condolences to all who have mentioned the passing of a loved one.

    Geez. I have had my 1984 Mustang since new and still have it, I was 26 at the time, I hope it doesn’t tell all the things that happened in it and to it to anyone. Let’s just keep that between us.

    My condolences for sure. I can’t imagine . . .

    Question – how can we be proactive and turn OFF some of this digital snooping? Can we defeat it? How much of it is vital to the safe operation of our cars? Can we “pollute” the information stream with nonsense and garbage as to render it useless? (There’s a browser anti-tracking program that works this way, it adds thousands of random websites to what is being monitored so the valid information is buried in trash.)

    There’s also the option of simply buying something else. “Does your product track me? Yes? Bye.” Or are they going to tell us that if we have nothing to hide we have nothing to fear?

    One good way to avoid it is to never pair your phone with your infotainment system. It keeps the car from hoovering up your data off your phone.

    I’m at my computer, at home, sitting beside my best friend, my wife, who is at her computer, and reading your comments about your cars. Talk about a major tear-jerker! It’s not a common occurrence for me to be at my computer, beside my wife, and turn into a blubbering idiot. My heartfelt condolences.

    As others have said, very sorry about your wife.

    An important part of picking a vehicle for myself has long been “what does this vehicle say about me”? If I don’t like the answer, I don’t buy.

    Just read your story. Sorry about your loss. I am going through the same thing. Not quite a year yet. Love how she would go with me to shows, even if she wasn’t always into them. And to take that trip over a 1000 miles in a car that was over 50 years old. I miss her too.

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