smartphone in carLast winter, I took a trip to California so I could enjoy some sun, warm weather and incredible driving experiences on the Pacific Coast Highway. Since I was spending so much time on the road, I decided to spring for a rental car packed with technology.

I connected my smartphone to the car for music, podcasts, navigation, web browsing and phone calls. Most rental cars allow you to connect your smartphone via Bluetooth or a USB cable, and as rental car companies replace their fleet with newer vehicles, all of these connected features will become standard. This comes with one major drawback – all the information you shared with the car may be available to the next driver.

Unless you remove all of that information, rental car employees or future renters could have access to your phone number, call and message logs, contacts, web browsing and GPS data. Some cars even store text messages so they can read them back to you while you’re driving.

What can you do to stay safe?

The best way to protect your information is to avoid connecting smartphones or mobile devices to your rental car in the first place. If you simply need to charge your device, you can use a 12-volt charging adapter, rather than plugging it in to the car’s USB port. If all you want to do is listen to music, you can connect your device with an auxiliary cable instead of Bluetooth.

If you do decide to connect your device to take advantage of some of the car’s tech features, make sure to follow these steps before handing in the keys:

  • Delete your call or text message history.
  • Remove your device’s Bluetooth profile from the car.
  • Clear any search/location history from the navigation settings.
  • Look for an option to clear all user data or reset the car to factory settings.

We all know that returning the car is done in a hurry as we’re racing to the airport to catch our flight. The next time you’re on vacation, make sure to give yourself an extra 10 minutes to remove all your personal data from your rental before rushing off to catch your flight!

October is National Cyber Security Awareness month, which is an annual campaign to raise awareness about cybersecurity. Learn more about National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

Eric LaValley is the auditing and monitoring analyst on the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Information Security team.

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