Consumer group CHOICE has found smart technologies built into new Toyota cars pose significant risks to customers' privacy, collecting highly personal data and potentially sharing it with third-parties, from insurance companies to debt collection agencies.
Toyota's "Connected Services" technology collects information such as vehicle location, driving data, fuel levels, and even phone numbers and email addresses.
"Concerningly, Toyota's Connected Services policy says if you do not opt out, it will collect and use personal and vehicle data for research, product development and data analysis purposes. It may also share the data with third parties, such as debt collectors or insurance companies. Toyota says it needs consent to share your information in some cases but Toyota's policies are incredibly vague about what actually counts as "consent"," says CHOICE Senior Campaigns and Policy Advisor, Rafi Alam.
One Toyota customer CHOICE spoke to, Mathew, spent $68,000 on a Toyota Hilux last year. When the vehicle became available for collection after a few months, he started receiving emails asking him to sign up for Toyota Connected Services - a feature he'd never been told about.
"Mathew told us the more he looked into the policy, the more uncomfortable he felt having this technology in his car. He asked Toyota if the technology could be removed - not simply deactivated - prior to picking up the car, but they said removing it would void the warranty, and his insurance would likely also be at risk," says Alam.
Mathew cancelled his finance and never picked up the car, but Toyota still refused to refund his $2,000 deposit. It was only after CHOICE sent questions to Toyota Australia that the dealership agreed to return the money.
"Privacy problems are fast becoming a real issue with cars, as just about every new vehicle seems to have a "smart" connection installed. A report released by Mozilla Foundation last year found cars are one of the worst product categories when it comes to privacy protections," says Alam.
"Car companies say these technology features increase driver safety, but in a world of data hacks and sharing, it's just another way for companies to gather valuable information, whether consumers like it or not," says Alam.
"The government urgently needs to introduce stronger safeguards and prohibitions on the collection and use of this kind of highly personal data. People shouldn't have to give up their privacy rights in order to purchase a new car," says Alam.
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