Free Privacy and Safety Resources for Survivors

“Survivors of domestic abuse shouldn’t have to choose between giving up their vehicle and feeling safe.”

In line with our mission of Driving Privacy and our pragmatic approach to consumer protection, we created this guide so consumers, including survivors of abuse, can take steps to reduce risks of stalking, invasion of the vehicle or home, harassment, theft, or physical harm. While none of those measures are perfect and much more is needed, the intent behind this guide is to empower survivors with practical knowledge and steps they can take to enhance their safety and privacy as it relates to connected cars.

Privacy is paramount not only for safeguarding our personal information but also because it has a direct impact on our physical and mental health. We realize that, especially as a survivor is seeking to get to safety and rebuild their life, some of these actions may be overwhelming. For this reason, we sorted actions consumers can take in order of complexity (refer to our ACI), and committed to offer pro-bono privacy assistance to survivors of abuse.

Need emergency help? Dial 9-1-1.
Need non-emergency help? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline to get
resources in your state: 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

Action Complexity Index (ACI)

LOW

MODERATE

INTERMEDIATE

HIGH

VERY HIGH

Simple & straightforward

Requires some effort & attention

More involved, but manageable

Challenging & demanding

Extremely complex & time-consuming

Action: Do not connect your phone to your vehicle

LOW

Why it Matters: If you connect a mobile device, the car may keep your mobile phone number, call and message logs, or even contacts and text messages. Unless you delete that data, other individuals, who have physical access to your vehicle, can easily access your call records and text messages even if your phone is locked by reading them on the infotainment screen as long as your phone is within Bluetooth range.

How to Execute: If you have connected your mobile device to your car, then consider deleting any data that may be stored in your car’s system. Additionally, refrain from connecting your mobile or other smart devices to your car via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or cable (e.g., auxiliary cord).

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: Download the Privacy4Cars data deletion app (available for iOS and Android users) and follow the step-by-step instructions to delete your vehicle data at no cost.

Action: Delete personal information in vehicle

MODERATE

Why it Matters: Your vehicle may store lots of information, including about your movement (locations visited) and communications (calls, text messages, etc.). Deleting this information is important and, especially if you fear somebody else may have a second key or way to get into your vehicle (including through connected services, see later), you may consider repeating this operation at regular intervals. For some vehicles, performing a factory reset will result in deauthorizing all mobile app users, which may remove your abuser’s ability to locate you and operate your vehicle remotely. We believe this protocol, which Ford first adopted in 2019 following our responsible disclosure and recommendation, should become an industry standard.

How to Execute: WARNING: If you conduct a factory reset, your abuser may learn that they are unable to track your location and report the vehicle stolen to law enforcement. You may want to consult with an advocate or legal counsel before proceeding.

Perform a factory reset (if your vehicle has a procedure for it) or delete your personal information stored in the infotainment system.

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: Download the Privacy4Cars data deletion app (available for iOS and Android users) and follow the step-by-step instructions to delete your vehicle data at no cost.

Action: Check if vehicle has manufacturer telematics

MODERATE

Why it Matters: Vehicles with telematics allow vehicles to receive and send information remotely, not just to the manufacturer, but a host of third parties. Both the manufacturer and third parties may make this information visible to individuals who have an account/login. Those individuals may also gain the ability to set geofences, get alerts, remotely track, unlock/lock, start and stop the engine, and activate or deactivate other remote services and features. Unfortunately there is no “red blinking light” that warns consumers if data is being recorded, transmitted, or who may be on the other side of the line. Knowing if the vehicle has telematics or not dramatically affects the risk profile of a survivor of abuse.

How to Execute: Your vehicle may have its own mobile network connectivity that works independently of your phone, making it able to receive and transmit data. Companies call this technology “telematics”. You can find out if your vehicle has telematics by calling your manufacturer.

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: Visit https://vehicleprivacyreport.com. and enter your VIN. If the report states that your vehicle is or may be like “a smartphone on wheels”, your vehicle should have telematics.

Action: Check if vehicle has one or more manufacturers’ connected apps that allow remote access to information or remote control

MODERATE

Why it Matters: We are unaware of any vehicle infotainment system that clearly displays if, how many, and who may have an account that allows them to set geofences, get alerts,remotely track, unlock/lock, start and stop the engine, and activate or deactivate other remote services and features. Knowing if the vehicle is compatible with one or more apps or not, and what capabilities those apps may have, dramatically affects the risk profile of a survivor of abuse.

How to Execute: If your vehicle has telematics, go on the app store of your mobile phone and search for apps published by your vehicle manufacturer. One by one, check if they are compatible with your vehicle. If they are, attempt to register your vehicle: this process may indicate that somebody else has an account.

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: Visit https://vehicleprivacyreport.com, enter your VIN, click on “Take Steps Here to Secure Your Vehicle,” and download each app to determine if you are able to claim ownership. Alternatively, you can appoint Privacy4Cars as your agent by clicking on “Demand Protection” and request that we contact the car manufacturer to disconnect any prior owner accounts for any compatible apps.

Action: Unplug OBD2/USB/ cigarette lighter devices

INTERMEDIATE

Privacy4Cars Can Help

Why it Matters: Many tracking devices exist that plug into the diagnostic OBD2 port of the vehicle, which feeds them both power and data about the vehicle, and may allow other functions such as unlocking the doors. Unplugging those devices will render them useless. While you look for devices plugged in the OBD2 port, it is a good idea to remove any unknown device plugged into any USB port inside the vehicle as well as in the cigarette lighters (some tracking devices look like phone chargers). Removing power is the easiest way to prevent your location or other information from being disclosed.

How to Execute: WARNING: If you suspect your vehicle contains a tracking device and you’re unable to locate/remove it, consider obtaining a rental car.

Locate the OBD-II port in your vehicle and remove any device that may be plugged in the port by simply pulling. Most OBD2 ports are located under the steering wheel or to the right or left of it. Car MD makes a nice free tool https://www.autopi.io/blog/obd2-port-location/.

Also remove any unknown devices plugged in USB ports and cigarette lighters. Make sure to check the compartment under the infotainment/radio, the center console/armrest (if your vehicle has one) and the glovebox. Be mindful that some plugs may be in hidden compartments, so look carefully.

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: If you are unable to remove any unknown device(s) plugged into USB port(s) or anywhere else in your vehicle, send us any visible details, such as the serial number or name of the manufacturer, to [email protected] and we will contact the manufacturer directly to request they disable location tracking.

Action: Cut off other people’s access to the manufacturer mobile apps

INTERMEDIATE

Why it Matters: Anybody who has created an account on one or more compatible apps may be able to set geofences, get alerts, remotely track, unlock/lock, start and stop the engine, and activate or deactivate other remote services and features. Ensuring on a regular basis that you are the only person who has access to those apps and features should be a priority for survivors of abuse.

How to Execute: WARNING: If your name is not on the title of the vehicle, or is not the only name on the title, this may be particularly challenging. Additionally, you may want to consult with an advocate or legal counsel before proceeding, as your abuser might report the vehicle stolen if they lose the ability to track its location.

Attempt to register your vehicle with every compatible manufacturer mobile app: this process may indicate that somebody else has an account. If that is the case, contact the customer service of your vehicle’s manufacturer. Make sure you have the Vehicle Identification Number (the VIN is visible through the windshield on the driver side or on a sticker on the driver door jam, among other places). Clearly state that you are at risk of domestic violence and that they need to deauthorize from the connected apps any other registered individual according to the Safe Connections Act.

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: Visit https://vehicleprivacyreport.com enter your VIN, click on “Take Steps Here to Secure Your Vehicle,” and download each app to determine if you are able to claim ownership. Alternatively, you can appoint Privacy4Cars as your agent and request that we contact the car manufacturer to disconnect any prior owner accounts for all compatible apps.

Action: Reduce your data footprint

INTERMEDIATE

Privacy4Cars Can Help

Why it Matters: You can request any company (e.g., car manufacturer and mobile service provider), that has collected data about you to delete it before an unauthorized person requests access to it.

How to Execute: WARNING: If your name does not appear as the account holder, vehicle title owner, or sole name listed, this may be particularly challenging so consider using a disposable phone (burner) and/or renting a vehicle.

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: If you need assistance in submitting a data deletion request to your car manufacturer, email us at [email protected]. Our team of privacy advocates will contact you to gather the necessary details the car manufacturer requires to verify your identity and fulfill the request.

Once we submit the request, you may be contacted by the car manufacturer either via email or phone to verify your identity and confirm our authority to submit the request on your behalf. You may need to monitor your inbox.

Action: Find and remove a Bluetooth tracker

Why it Matters: There are a wide variety of devices on the market that allow to transmit to the device owner the position (or last known position) of the device. A common category of devices uses a technology called Bluetooth Low Energy (or BLE, in short). Removing the device and throwing it away or handing it to Law Enforcement if there is an active investigation (or plan to open one) will stop the tracking.

If you know a device is installed in the vehicle but are unable to find it, Law Enforcement or a technician may be able to assist you. At minimum, you should take note of the device name and unique identifier (the Bluetooth MAC Address, is a 48-bit unique identifier in the format xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx) and give this information to your lawyer and Law Enforcement (if you have one/have an active case or plan to open one)

How to Execute: WARNING: Receiving zero hits with a Bluetooth scanner app does not guarantee the absence of trackers in your vehicle, due to the varied quality and sensitivity of such apps in detecting Bluetooth Low Energy devices. Additionally, you may want to consult with an advocate or legal counsel before proceeding, as your abuser might report the vehicle stolen if they lose the ability to track its location; and if you seek assistance from Law Enforcement, request a police report.

Drive to an isolated place that is at least 300 ft away from any structure or people, so to avoid detecting devices that are not in the vehicle. Make sure all your wireless devices (e.g. earbuds, speakers, etc.) with the exception of your phone, are turned off. Turn off the engine of the vehicle and open the driver door, which will turn off the vehicle’s Bluetooth as well. Go to your phone’s app store and search for “bluetooth scanner” and download the app that seems to be most comprehensive (make sure it includes BLE devices such as AirTags, Tile, Eddystone) and ideally shows the strength of the signal detected. Run a scan and, if you detect a device, the signal strength (often measured in dB) is an indicator of how far away from you (or how concealed inside the car) a device may be. If you see a device in the scan but are unable to find the device, repeat this operation in a different location, in the off chance you are picking up a nearby device unrelated to your vehicle. If the same device is there (the Bluetooth MAC address is unique for each device hence does not change in between scans) ask a technician or Law Enforcement if they can help.

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: Email the device name and unique identifier (the Bluetooth MAC Address, is a 48-bit unique identifier in the format xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx) to [email protected] and our team will contact the manufacturer of the device to deactivate it and stop location tracking.

Action: Cut off other people’s access to the telematics

Why it Matters: Vehicles with telematics allow vehicles to receive and send information remotely, not just to the manufacturer, but a host of third parties. Both the manufacturer and third parties may make this information visible to individuals who have an account/login. Those individuals may also gain the ability to set geofences, get alerts,remotely track, unlock/lock, start and stop the engine, and activate or deactivate other remote services and features. Unfortunately there is no “red blinking light” that shows obviously to consumers if data is being recorded, transmitted, or who may be on the other side of the line. Deauthorizing any other user on the telematics/connected services account or disconnecting the telematic connection are the two possible paths to avoid being tracked.

How to Execute: WARNING: If your name does not appear on the vehicle’s title, or if it is not the sole name listed, this may be particularly challenging.

Contact the customer service of your vehicle’s manufacturer. Make sure you have the Vehicle Identification Number (the VIN is visible through the windshield on the driver side or on a sticker on the driver door jam, among other places). Clearly state that you are at risk of domestic violence and that they need to remove or disable access to the telematics unit for the individual(s) you are concerned about according to the Safe Connections Act. You may have to terminate the telematics connection altogether (this may affect in-vehicle services). Manufacturers may require a police report or a social services document if you are not the title owner. Do not hesitate to request an escalation of this issue if they decline to revoke access.

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: You can contact us at [email protected] to get free assistance in terminating other user’s access to your vehicle’s data (e.g., location).

Action: Check if there are any aftermarket GPS or Telematics trackers and disconnect them

Why it Matters: Finding and removing or deactivating aftermarket devices can be very tricky. A physical inspection is the best bet, but may be time-consuming and expensive. Alternatively you may attempt to contact the tens of companies who make those devices one by one and to confirm the presence of a device in your vehicle. This may prove to be even harder than a physical inspection.

How to Execute: WARNING: If your name does not appear on the vehicle’s title, or if it is not the sole name listed, this may be particularly challenging so consider renting a vehicle.

An aftermarket GPS or telematics tracker may have been installed in your vehicle. These devices may not be easy to find, even for professional inspectors. You may ask the dealer who sold you the vehicle or the mechanic you usually take the vehicle to if they installed an aftermarket device. If yes, contact the manufacturer of the device and ask them to disconnect the device in order to stop the tracking.

How Privacy4Cars Can Support You: Provide the details of the device, for example, the manufacturer of the device and any unique identifiers, to [email protected] and our team will contact the manufacturer of the device to deactivate it and stop location tracking.

What to expect when you contact us

Survivors have rights under the Safe Connections Act. Our ability to assist you in exercising those rights is limited. We can assist you with the following:

  • Contact your car manufacturer to disconnect any prior owner accounts for all compatible apps in order to stop location tracking. To do this, email us your full name and vehicle identification number (VIN). 
  • Contact the device manufacturer of any unknown device(s) plugged into the USB port(s) or found anywhere else in/on the vehicle to request they disable all tracking. To do this, email us your VIN and any visible details, such as the serial number and/or name of the manufacturer. 
  • Contact the device manufacturer of aftermarket GPS or telematics tracker(s) to request they disable all tracking. To do this, email us your VIN and any visible details, such as the serial number and/or name of the manufacturer.
  • Reduce your data footprint by submitting a data deletion request on your behalf. To do this, email us your full name and VIN.

Contact us at [email protected] and anticipate a response within 24 hours. If you require immediate emergency assistance, dial 9-1-1.