Car Companies Prevail In Privacy Battle Over Text Message Interception

A federal appeals court won't revive claims that car manufacturers violated a Washington state wiretap law by allegedly intercepting and recording text messages from cellphones connected to on-board infotainment systems.

In a series of four rulings handed down this week, and one issued late last month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial court's dismissal of the claims on the grounds that the consumers' allegations, even if proven true, wouldn't show they had been injured by the alleged privacy violations.

Washington's wiretap law prohibits the interception of electronic communications without the consent of both parties.

The statute also has a provision allowing for private lawsuits by people who claim that a violation “has injured his or her business, his or her person, or his or her reputation.”



That provision “expressly requires” consumers to allege injuries, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit wrote in an October 27 ruling that sided with Ford Motor. On Tuesday, the 9th Circuit sided with Volkswagen Group, Toyota, General Motors and Honda, for the same reason.

The rulings come as car manufacturers are facing increasing scrutiny over privacy practices.

The California Privacy Protection Agency said in July it planned to review automakers' privacy practices by manufacturers of connected vehicles.

“Data privacy considerations are critical because these vehicles often automatically gather consumers’ locations, personal preferences, and details about their daily lives,” the agency stated.

In September, the nonprofit Mozilla described cars as a “privacy nightmare.”

“Car brands quietly entered the data business by turning their vehicles into powerful data-gobbling machines,” Mozilla wrote in a post titled “It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy.”

Researchers at Mozilla reviewed 25 car brands and found that all collect more data than necessary, while 84% said they can share people's personal data with outside companies -- including “service providers and data brokers."

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