Automakers can collect and record your text messages, federal judge rules

A federal judge upheld the dismissal of a class action lawsuit that alleged automakers unlawfully collected and recorded car owners’ text messages, as first reported by The Record. In a ruling on Tuesday, the Seattle-based judge said the claims aren’t severe enough to be considered a violation of the state’s Washington Privacy Act (WPA).

A group of five related class action lawsuits allege that Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, General Motors, and Ford “recorded and intercepted [car owners’] private text messages and call logs” when their phones were connected to the vehicles’ infotainment systems. The case filed against Ford has already been dismissed, according to The Record.

The federal judge’s ruling states that the district court “properly dismissed” the four remaining cases, adding that they don’t satisfy the WPA’s statutory injury requirement, which says plaintiffs must allege an injury to their person, reputation, or business. “Plaintiffs’ allegation that a violation of the WPA itself is enough to satisfy injury to a ‘person’… without more, is insufficient to meet the statutory requirement,” the ruling says.

As automakers continue to build out their infotainment systems with features designed to help you answer calls and text messages, privacy advocates argue that manufacturers aren’t doing enough to protect user data. A 2022 report from The Markup found that automakers are not only collecting data about your car but also sending it to vehicle data hubs to process that information.

In September, the Mozilla Foundation published a report that said modern cars “are a privacy nightmare,” noting that several big-name car brands, including Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, BMW, and Tesla, didn’t meet the organization’s minimum privacy standards. Until something is done to regulate the vehicle data industry, companies may continue to collect everything from vehicle speed and the music you’re playing to your location.