What Your Smart Phone Told Your Rental Car

If you are accustomed to using your smart phone with your own car, you may not think twice about connecting it to a “smart” rental car with an infotainment system. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that connecting to a rental car, even just to charge the phone, may transfer your personal information to the car—information that stays there even after you have returned the car. That means that anyone who later has access to the infotainment system will also have access to your contacts, call logs, messages and GPS locations, including where you work or where you live.

Of course, one way to protect your data is not to connect. However, you do not have to forego using the navigation system, making calls or listening to your favorite music in the car to protect your privacy.

The FTC suggests the following steps to keep your personal information safe:

  • If you only need to charge your phone, do not use the car’s USB port. Use a charger connected to the cigarette lighter (when available) because just connecting to the USB port may transfer data automatically. Additionally, an article in USA Today recommends using an auxiliary cable to connect the headphone port on the phone to the car’s audio system instead of using Bluetooth pairing.
  • Check your permissions. When connecting your device to a car, the system may give you options regarding what information it may access. Only grant access to the data you believe is needed. It does not need to access your contacts to play music, for example.
  • Delete your data from the car’s system before you return the car. Access the infotainment system’s settings menu, locate your device on the list of paired devices and delete it. Or look for an option to delete all user data or reset to the original factory settings. USA Today recommends clearing your history from the car’s navigation system.

Our interconnected devices are convenient, but we need to be mindful of who is allowed to access our personal information and where it is stored.