From the UK desk…Paul Wimsett
In part 1 we discussed some of the neat secret parts designers work into a car to help it appeal to a consumer, but Mercedes-Benz has included a secret part strictly for its own good. Location circuitry which can be used to invade privacy and spy on you.
Not disclosing that a car has spyware that pinpoint its location seems controversial. We are talking 170,000 cars in Britain and it could be further afield too. Apparently according to Mercedes-Benz, it is not about permanently tracking customers, though the same equipment could be used that way so it is hard to see how it would not work like that.
It should come as no surprise that this is illegal according to the laws in Britain, should it be used in that manor, which again is not what the car maker claims the circuits are for.
It is not known how long these “sensors” (trackers might be a better word for them) have been in operation. The fact that Mercedes-Benz didn’t tell anyone about their built-in tracker makes it seem more suspect. The fact that no other car dealer factory installs such trackers also makes it seem more suspect. It seems that Mercs are on their own when it comes to this practice, Land Rover, BMW and Volkswagen confirmed that they do not use similar techniques and as far as I know the same is true for other car companies.
Company -owned fleet vehicles often have tracking built in which that company can use to determine the location of property they own, which seems reasonable. Police cars and government owned vehicles also have built in tracking in case someone steels them. Citizens can have “lo-jack” equipment installed into their vehicle to aid in recover for the same reason. And of course, you can often use Sat-Nav to locate a lost vehicle. But all these things are intentionally installed “after-market,” and the people who can access this information are the legal owners of the vehicle.
So why is Mercedes-Benz doing it? The idea is it should only be used when customer has breached the financial agreement and hasn’t made other arrangements. The ability to repossess a vehicle in America is limited to it being parked on a publicly visible location. Certainly, it would assist agents of the lender to know exactly where a vehicle is, and perhaps even when it will be at a location it might be more easily seized.
This is a big grey area for many of us. It relies on an interpretation of a person’s rites under the law, that is based on the notion a car is stolen when you are far enough behind on your payments.
Presumably other terms of sale could be made, or bailiffs could be brought in? And the fact that the cars are tracked 100% of the time is a reason to worry. We’ve only the company’s word that they only check the location when they need to take the car back.
The customer should know when they are being spied on and not disclosing this feature until it was discovered independently deprives consumers of their rites in my opinion.