By now, most of us realize that when we go online, we give up some privacy. Anyone who’s browsed for something on only to have related ads pop up on other sites knows that. However, offline, you might not have as much privacy as you think you do, and some of that lack of privacy can come in what is a fairly private space: your car. Here are four groups that are inviting Big Brother to ride shotgun with you.

Smartphone apps that connect you to your car could also allow the car to be tracked. (General Motors)

Your City

Traffic cameras have long been the subject of debate, with advocates saying they improve road safety and detractors arguing they exist just to fill holes in municipal budgets. Both sides may be right. The Washington Post reports that in the District of Columbia, citations from traffic cameras are down this year, which city officials say is due in large part to safer behavior by drivers. On the other hand, now the city faces a budget shortfall as revenue from the speeding and red light cameras is 62 percent less than it was at this time in 2013. Then there’s the single traffic camera in New York that the New York Post reports generated $77,550 worth of speeding tickets in just one day.

Though the safety versus finances aspect of traffic cameras hasn’t been settled, privacy advocates are starting to raise concerns about the use of traffic cameras. Today’s cameras can track cars before and after they enter and leave an intersection using radar technology, and pan in all directions. Some even provide live video feeds to law enforcement. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that he ACLU has protested the extensive use of traffic cameras in Chicago. At issue is the fact that traffic cameras can not only issue citations to people who commit moving violations, but they can also allow a car to be tracked from camera to camera without the driver’s consent or knowledge.

Your Car Insurance Company

You want the lowest rate on car insurance, and you know you’re a good driver. The problem is getting your car insurance company to believe you. While your driving record and history of past claims can be a good indicator of the kind of risk you pose, Progressive car insurance has its Snapshot program, which uses a device that plugs into your car and sends data about how you drive to Progressive. Through Snapshot, Progressive can see how many miles you drive, how often you brake hard and, in some cases, where you drive, though Progressive says location data is “only for research purposes.”

Snapshot is a program that you have to opt into, so it may not seem like a big violation of privacy.  However, according to its privacy policy, there are some cases where Progressive may share Snapshot data.

Your Car Loan Company

Your car insurance company isn’t the only company that wants to keep tabs on your car to minimize its risk. The New York Times reports on a growing trend of car lenders requiring borrowers to install tracking devices and engine immobilizers. If you fall behind on your payment, the company can remotely disable the car, then easily find and repossess it. People who have the devices in their cars have reported that their cars have been shut off remotely while they were driving, and that the technology is overly intrusive. For example, the Times reports that the lending company could see that a car is no longer being driven to a person’s job, indicating that a missed payment may be looming.


In response to consumer demand, new cars are more connected than ever. Modern telematics systems can alert first responders if the car is in a collision and help find the car if it’s stolen. Some systems, like Hyundai’s BlueLink, allow you to set up alerts if the car is driven out of a certain geographic area or over a certain speed. While features like that may give parents peace of mind, remember that if you can track your car, so can the car company. General Motors’ OnStar system has a smartphone app, like many other car companies, that can track a car’s location. That may give you a sense of security, but it’s important to keep in mind that with your Vehicle Identification Number and pin, anyone else can track your car – and that means that they’ll likely also be tracking you. According to Tech Times, last week GM hired a chief product cybersecurity officer to help protect GM cars, and their drivers, from some privacy breeches.

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