Toyota Criticised for Tracking Driver’s Location and Personal Data

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New cars today are ‘privacy nightmares’ on wheels, according to the Mozilla Foundation.

An Australian man alleges that the Japanese car giant refused to refund his deposit on a car—upon discovering it would feature tracking and data-sharing capabilities—services he claims were not disclosed to him during the purchase.

The Queensland father had placed a $2,000 deposit on a Toyota Hilux priced at $68,000 (US$44,000) last July.

Upon the car’s arrival at the dealership, he started receiving emails from Toyota prompting him to register for “Toyota Connected Services,” described by the manufacturer as “a suite of technology focused on safety and security, convenience, and a better driving experience.”

“I’d never heard about it, and the dealer never told me about it at all,” the customer stated.

Introduced in late 2020, Toyota Connected Services includes features such as movement tracking and driving data collection.

According to an investigation by Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group Choice, the smart technology in Connected Services “collects information such as vehicle location, driving data, fuel levels, as well as personal information like phone numbers and email addresses.”

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“Toyota may share collected data with third parties with your consent, such as finance and insurance companies, promotions and market research organisations, debt collection agencies, and information technology service providers.”

Following extensive research into the privacy policies and becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Toyota Connected Services and its data handling practices, the customer requested the removal of the features in his car.

“I was told if you remove it you will void your warranty and you‘ll likely put your insurance at risk as well. And that was when I said, ’You guys can keep your vehicle’,” he said.

Despite cancelling his order and expressing privacy concerns, he claims the Toyota dealer refused to refund his $2,000 deposit, prompting him to lodge complaints with the Queensland Office of Fair Trading and the Queensland Ombudsman.

“I’m just really disappointed,” he said. “You should have a choice not to be dictated to, I really believe that.”

Toyota has been contacted for comment.

‘New Cars Are Privacy Nightmares on Wheels’

Privacy concerns are not limited to the Japanese manufacturer.

US-based Mozilla Foundation concluded an in-depth review of 25 major car brands—including Tesla, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMV—that cars rank among the worst product categories when it comes to privacy protections.

In their report released in September 2023, they found that all 25 car brands collect more personal data than necessary, with 84 percent of them sharing or selling data to third parties.

This includes sensitive data such as sexual activity, immigration status, race, facial expressions, weight, health, and genetic information, as well as travel patterns.

Only two companies, Renault and Dacia, provide drivers with the option to delete their data.

“Consumers don’t have a real choice. All new cars today are privacy nightmares on wheels that collect huge amounts of personal information,” Jen Caltrider from Mozilla said.

“It’s have a car and have no privacy, or don’t have a car.”

Similarly, Ibrahim Khalil, a professor of cloud systems and security at RMIT University, emphasised that the challenge of privacy protection is becoming increasingly complex.

“These manufacturers are saying we’re collecting data to make sure driving is safe and they are applying AI techniques to improve lots of different things like situational awareness, but of course, that’s not the whole story,” Mr. Khalil said.

“We are exchanging data that they can actually abuse.”

Choice verified that Toyota Australia has since contacted the customer and assured him of a full refund of his $2,000 deposit.

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