I've heard that all new cars come with a built-in GPS even without purchasing a navigation system. This sounds a little like Big Brother. Is there any truth to this?
No, all new cars do not have built-in global positioning systems. But there are privacy concerns associated with GPS in vehicles (and cell phones, where they are now mandatory).
Vehicles equipped with navigation systems and safety communication systems, such as General Motors’ OnStar, have GPS, and some people fear that police and other government agencies or criminals can track your whereabouts if they gain access to these systems. In fact, some law enforcement agencies secretly place GPS devices on the vehicles of suspected criminals to keep tabs on them, a practice that has been upheld in recent court challenges.
So what can you do to make sure Big Brother isn’t watching all the time? Don’t buy a vehicle with a navigation or safety communication system, and leave the cell phone at home or ditch it entirely. The alternative is to trust that your GPS data won’t be stolen or misused. For example, by law, cell phone providers can provide GPS tracking data to third parties — such as police and emergency services — only when users call 911.
Similar concerns have been raised about event data recorders (EDRs), the “black box” found in many vehicles that collects data during or just before a crash. EDRs store data such as what caused airbags to deploy, vehicle speed and throttle position – information that could be used in lawsuits and insurance claims.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, EDRs and the data they store belong to vehicle owners. However, police, insurers, automakers and others may gain access to the data with owner consent. Toyota did that when it investigated recent claims of unintended acceleration. Without consent, access may be obtained through a court order in a criminal case or lawsuit. Some auto insurance policies contain provisions that require policyholders to allow the insurer access to the EDR data.
EDRs are not mandatory, but most vehicles sold today have them. Federal regulations that will apply to 2013 and later models will require that all EDRs voluntarily installed must record several events in a vehicle crash for uniformity, including the vehicle speed, whether the brakes were applied before the crash and whether the driver’s seat belt was buckled.
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