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Used car sellers warned about giving their data away

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Written by: Emma Lunn
22/06/2020
Drivers selling their cars risk inadvertently giving away personal information due to not wiping the car’s computer, according to Which?

Data second-hand car sellers could accidentally be giving away include contact numbers, home addresses and home wi-fi details.

This information is often stored on cars’ computers if drivers synchronise their phone to the vehicle, or use their car’s accompanying app.

But Which? found up to four in five drivers don’t delete sensitive personal details from their cars before selling.

Synching smartphones

In a survey of more than 14,000 car owners, Which? found that more than half (54%) had synced a phone to the car using Bluetooth or USB.

Pairing a smartphone with a car will mean that drivers could play their own music, download their contacts and messages, get live traffic and navigation information, and make hands free calls or send messages.

But while this may be convenient, unless the phone is later disconnected, the account deleted and downloaded information erased, this data could be viewed by the next owner and potentially every owner after that.

However, the survey found half (51%) drivers had not tried to unsync their phone before selling their car and a third (31%) of respondents took no action at all to remove their personal information from the car.

How to remove information from your car

Removing your data from a car you’re selling is akin to restoring a phone to factory settings.

Typically, you need to get into the car’s “infotainment” system, access the settings menu and find the option to erase your account and data.

Alternatively, check the car’s manual and follow its instructions on how to delete your data from the car.

Car apps

Some cars also have apps that let the app owner track the car’s location, unlock the doors and even stop and start the car’s engine – so it is important that owners revoke their app’s access to a car when they sell it on.

Which? found that while only one in eight (13%) of the drivers who had recently sold their car had downloaded this type of app, an alarming proportion who did so (68%) had not followed instructions to remove all this information from their car.

Harry Rose, editor of Which? magazine, says: “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.

“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.”

What to do if you’re buying a used car

If you buy a second-hand car from a dealer or private seller, ask for evidence that all data has been removed and access rights revoked.

Then you won’t have to worry that the previous owner can still track, unlock or drive away with your new car.

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