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The Dangers of Syncing Your Phone to your Vehicle

Syncing your phone to your vehicle’s infotainment system is a wonderful convenience that allows you to make hands-free calls and texts (required by law in New Jersey), stream music, and even browse the web. But in order to do this, the infotainment system may store personal information kept on your phone.

Ask yourself:

  • Would you leave your Social Security card on a park bench and just walk away?
  • Would you leave your unlocked smartphone in a crowded airport terminal while you went to a vending machine?

If the answer is no, you should think about your vehicle in the same terms.  Your personal information is too valuable to leave it out in the open.

“Drivers need to be prudent about their personal info; this goes beyond identity theft into the realm of personal safety”, warns Tracy Noble, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “Every car system is different, and prior to syncing a device to a vehicle motorists need to be aware of the risks.”

The stored information is vulnerable to theft. If you trade in your car, sync your phone to a rental car, or hand your keys to a valet, you open yourself up to having your personal information stolen. It is possible for an unauthorized person to gain access to your home address and access your garage door opener.

Currently there are no industry or government standards for vehicle infotainment systems, but here are some general guidelines:

Know the type of information that your infotainment system may be storing:

  • Home address, work address, and other saved or frequently used GPS locations
  • Your home phone number
  • Your call and message logs
  • Personal contacts
  • Text messages
  • Garage opener programming

Know what you can do to protect your information:

  • Check your phone’s permissions to learn what information your car can access. When syncing your phone, if your infotainment system allows you to choose which types of information you share, restrict it to what’s necessary. For instance, if you’re only syncing your phone to play music, the car only needs to access your music library, not your personal contacts.
  • Before handing your keys over to a valet, check to see if your car has a Valet Mode you can set the infotainment system to that will protect your sensitive data.
  • When renting a car, if you’re plugging your phone in to charge it, use the cigarette lighter adapter port (if you have the cable for it) instead of the USB, because that port doesn’t access your information. Use your phone’s GPS without syncing up with the rental car.
  • Before trading in your car or returning a rental car, go to the settings menu on the car’s infotainment system to find a list of synced devices. When you find your devices, follow the prompts to delete them. If you can’t figure out how to do this, check the owner’s manual or an online tutorial.

Your personal information is as valuable as it is vulnerable. Treat the information stored in your car—or rental car—with the same discretion you give to your checkbook, cell phone, and birth certificate.

 

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