Consumer Reports: Is your car collecting data about you?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- You may think of your car as a way to get from point A to point B, but did you know it may also be collecting data -- about you, the roads you take, even the way you drive?

7 On Your Side's Michael Finney has details on more concerning details. Consumer Reports says when it comes to the information they are collecting and how they use it, it's often the automaker, not the owner, who's in the driver's seat.

Consumer Reports looked at 2018 models, and found 32 out of 44 brands offer some kind of wireless data connection. More cars are also now equipped with cameras, usually facing outside the vehicle, but this one in the Tesla Model 3 faces inside. "The manual says the camera is not turned on right now, but it could be used in potential future features," said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports Auto Expert. "Tesla promises that it will let customers know before they turn the camera on," he said.

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General Motor's 2018 Cadillac CT6 with super cruise also has an internal camera mounted right on the steering column. It monitors the driver for signs of distraction, but General Motors says it does not capture or store video.

Between cameras and sensors, cars are collecting all kinds of data about our driving habits. The question is why. "A lot of data is being collected to help automakers prepare for self-driving cars. It's a machine learning-process. They're using your data to map the roads and better understand how vehicles and people are going to react on those roads," said Fisher.

The legal rules around car data are murky. A 2015 law says the crash data belongs to the owner, not the auto company, but that's just a very small fraction of the data your car is generating.

The auto industry has issued voluntary guidelines around privacy practices, but Consumers Union, Consumer Reports' advocacy division, would like to see more regulation and greater transparency, with car companies being upfront about what they're collecting.

Fisher said, "Consumers shouldn't be put in a position where they have to search for what information is being gathered about them, how it's being gathered, and what it's being used for."

Consumers Union would also like to see owners have the option to put the brakes on unwanted and unnecessary data collection.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and the 7 On Your Side team.

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