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Channel 2 Investigates: Syncing into the unknown, 'Data is like gold'

Information lives in vehicles in ways that you may not expect

HOUSTON – How many times have you plugged your phone into a computer it does not recognize? Almost instantaneously your phone displays a message asking, "Do you trust this computer?"

However, how often does this happen when you plug into a car? Even your own? Are you potentially syncing into the unknown?

Information lives in vehicles in ways that you may not expect. We routinely give up that information when we sync or plug our smartphones into a rental car or ride-sharing service.

Justin Cappos, a renowned digital security expert with the Computer Science and Engineering department at New York University, says simply, "That's such a bad thing."

Channel 2 Investigates recently spoke with one victim of car burglary that said the break-in was, "all about information."

We also speak with one Uber driver, who said she routinely gets eight out of every 10 rides asking for a charge.

Julie Vargas began driving earlier this year. The ability to sync her passengers' smartphones presented itself early on.

"Probably after the first 10 rides or so, I'm like, 'Oh, it's giving me an option to download.' So I would just say no obviously, because I am an honest person," Vargas said.

Sgt. Tracy Hicks, a member of the Houston Police Department’s auto theft unit, said car burglaries have transformed in recent years.

"We actually have an identify fraud part of auto theft now," Hicks said.

For the story on how HPD was able to arrest a perp through phone syncing as well what one local U.S. representative says is being done, click on the Channel 2 Investigates report.

Syncing into the unknown: 6 key privacy takeaways for you in under 60 seconds

  • Only sync or charge in trusted vehicles: We were raised not to trust strangers. Apply the same practice when in a strange vehicle and you want to hear your playlist or get a charge.
  • Remember the valet function: Check to see if your vehicle is equipped with one. It will temporarily block access to your vehicle's information.
  • Keep software up to date: Your car computer is like your smartphone. Keep it current with technology as updates may provide security and performance enhancements.
  • Selling or renting: Consult your owner's manual as well as your dealer for guidelines on how to scrub your vehicle's information by resetting and removing pivotal information.
  • Car applications: Reset or delete any of them that may have your personal information.
  • Garage door programming: When selling your car or turning in a lease, always reset all programming.
  • File: National Automobile Dealers Association and the Future of Privacy Forum report

    For more on protecting your privacy, check out the report from the National Automobile Dealers Association and the Future of Privacy Forum.

    Channel 2 Investigates producer Tera Roberson, photographers John Barone, Jon Hill, David Weed and editor Bill Carruthers contributed to this report.

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