Rental-car drivers: take these important steps to protect your privacy

Photo © Paolese - Fotolia

Modern conveniences are supposed to benefit you, not hackers and identity thieves

Modern technology makes renting a car far more complicated than it used to be, especially if you want to protect your own personal privacy.

For example: in March, news broke that roughly 1 out of every 8 cars in Hertz's rental fleet were equipped with dashboard cameras – not outward-facing cameras monitoring the road, but inward-facing cameras capable of making audio and video recordings of everyone and everything in the passenger compartment.

At the time, Hertz said it wasn't using the cameras to spy on people and couldn't even if it wanted to, because “at this time” it doesn't have enough bandwidth to support streaming video anyway; presumably, Hertz just decided to spend however-much money buying and installing spy technology it wasn't going to use purely for the hell of it.

Privacy risks

But Hertz is not the only rental company with the potential to compromise your privacy. Any car that lets you use Bluetooth to “pair” your smartphone with the car (especially its entertainment and GPS or navigation systems) puts your privacy at risk unless you take extra care to erase your history.

Last week, Kim Komando at USA Today wrote about “one huge mistake people make when renting cars”: if you connect your phone with the car's systems, whoever rents the car after you can potentially find your personal information. “When you connect your gadget to a car with Bluetooth, the car stores your phone number to make it easier to connect later. It also stores your call logs, including any contacts you dialed. Just one problem: All that information is saved inside the system and just sitting around for the next renter to find.”

Protecting your privacy

Fortunately, fixing this problem is pretty easy (though remembering to fix the problem before you return the car might be more difficult). Go into the car's settings – exactly how you do this varies based on the make and model of the car, of course – look for the list of gadgets previously paired with Bluetooth, and remove your own phone or other devices from the list. (And if you want to pick up some easy good-karma points, maybe go ahead and remove other Bluetooth-paired devices if you can.)

Also: if you used the car's built-in GPS or navigation system rather than your own, you'll want to delete your trip information from that.

It's also worth remembering that modern cars are essentially computers on wheels – and computers can be hacked. In February, the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee released a report showing that almost every new car on the market was hackable – meaning, hackers not only had the potential to take control of some vehicles, but also could hack into the navigation system to steal valuable information about their owners.

Be careful where you connect

Not only can computerized cars be hacked; they can also be infected with viruses or malware, and if you connect your smartphone or other device to this infected vehicle, your device will be infected, too.

If you do connect your devices to the cars you rent, make sure your antivirus and malware protection is strong and up-to-date (which you ought to do whether you rent a car or not), and make sure to delete your device and history from all in-car systems: navigation, entertainment, and everything else.

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