What information is being stored on vehicle infotainment systems?

Phone books, call logs, photos, messages, social media feeds can be transferred

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Modern cars have more than 60 computers on board, processing and storing massive amounts of data, including loads of personal information from connected cellphones, accessible to others.

A car infotainment system connected, by Bluetooth or USB, to a cellphone can collect information that is not always transparent to the user.

Phone books, call logs, photos, messages and social media feeds can be transferred and permanently stored on infotainment systems.

In most cases, drivers cannot delete the transferred information, although trained technicians with the right hardware and software can check if the user has tried to delete the information.

"There are people in Houston who have the systems and the software," said April Yergin, an accident reconstruction expert with ATA Associates.

Yergin's company is weighing whether the new technology would be beneficial to ATA Associates work, which includes decades of vehicle accident investigation and data collection.

The company at the forefront of the infotainment data harvesting is Berla, a Maryland company with the motto: Discovering the Road Ahead & The Data Left Behind.

The federal government was impressed with Berla's technology and has partnered with the company to develop the necessary tools to access more than 4,500 car models and configurations.

But, perhaps because the field is so new, the federal government has not regulated what sorts of data infotainment systems can collect and how that information must be secured.

"It's like the Wild West," Yergin said.

To check if and how much data your car's infotainment system collects, use Berla's handy tool (Pro tip: To see if Berla's equipment can access the info, look for "supported" or "not supported" in the results box).

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