A survey by consumer group Which? has revealed that up to four out of five car owners do not adequately erase their personal data from their cars before selling them off, thereby leaking their phone numbers, contacts, and addresses.
Out of more than 14,000 car owners in the UK who had sold their cars in the past two years, Which? found that a majority of them had either synced a phone to the car using Bluetooth or USB or had downloaded their car's accompanying app. This ensured their cars stored plenty of personal data such as contacts, messages, and saved GPS locations.
Unless such data is properly deleted, all of the stored data can be accessed by the next owner of cars and by potentially every owner thereafter, Which? warned.
“If cars are not treated the same as a smartphone, tablet or other connected devices when it comes to data security, motorists risk giving away a treasure trove of information about themselves when they decide to sell their car,” said Harry Rose, Editor of Which? Magazine.
In terms of numbers, Which? found that 79% of car owners "did not follow instructions in the car manual to remove data and return the car to its factory settings before they sold it", 68% of those who downloaded their cars' accompanying apps did not follow instructions to remove their personal information before selling their cars, and 50% of car owners did not delete their cars' apps even after selling off their cars.
"Which? is concerned that the high number of drivers who are failing to take action to erase their data when the car is sold suggests they are not being given enough information about what is being collected when they sync their phones or download an app, and the importance of eradicating the data.
"Which? experts advise that consumers who have synced their phone or downloaded the app should follow instructions to delete all data from the car. Those who download a companion app, must revoke access from within the car itself – just deleting the app on a phone does not break the link," the consumer group added.
“Manufacturers must do much more to prioritise customers’ personal privacy so that drivers fully understand how much data their vehicle could be harbouring and how to delete this information in order to eradicate these risks,” Rose added.