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Federal regulator questions automakers about unwanted tracking through their apps

Written by The Anand Market

Updated on:

Many modern cars are connected to the Internet and have apps that allow their owner to know a car’s location, remotely turn it on, honk the horn, and even adjust the temperature. These car control and tracking apps are designed for convenience, but a New York Times article last month detailed how they have been used as weapons in abusive relationships, enabling unwanted stalking and stalking.

Domestic violence survivors and experts said automakers failed to respond when asked to cut off digital access to cars for abusers. Automaker customer service agents were unable to help when the perpetrator owned or co-owned the vehicle, even when the victim had a restraining order or a court order granting them freedom. exclusive use of the car during the divorce proceedings.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday sent letters to nine of the largest automakers, including General Motors, Toyota, Ford and Tesla, asking for more information about their connected car applications and whether the companies had processes in place to help victims of abuse.

“No survivor of domestic violence and abuse should have to choose between abandoning their car and allowing themselves to be stalked and harmed by those who can access their data and connectivity,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “We must do everything we can to help survivors stay safe. We must work with automotive and wireless industry leaders to find solutions.

Chairwoman Rosenworcel wrote in the letters that the FCC is responsible for enforcing the Safe Connections Act, a relatively new law that requires phone companies to separate a victim’s phone from a family plan shared with an abuser. To the extent that cars have become “smartphones on wheels,” automakers “may be ‘covered providers'” under the law, she wrote.

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The agency also sent letters to the three largest wireless communications providers — Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile — regarding the role they play in providing connectivity to cars and whether they are following the law.

Thomas Kadri, a law professor at the University of Georgia and advisor for the Safe Connections Act, found it surprising that the law could apply to automakers. But he said he hoped the letters would get automakers thinking about how connected car apps could be used for stalking and harassment.

“This is not a niche problem or a rare problem at the scale that they operate at,” he said.

The FCC has requested responses to the letters by the end of the month.