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WA Judge Rules That Car Manufacturers Can Legally Store Your Texts and Phone Calls Without Explicit Permission

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In a move concerning privacy advocates, a federal judge last week ruled against reinstating a collective lawsuit accusing four auto manufacturing giants of contravening privacy protections in Washington state. The companies were alleged to have illicitly intercepted and documented private text messages and call records of customers using their car’s inbuilt infotainment systems.

The judge based in Seattle concluded that this activity did not constitute unauthorized privacy infringements according to state regulations.

Related: Cars: A Modern Privacy Disaster

The court’s decision favors the automakers Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and General Motors, who find themselves as defendants in five parallel collective lawsuits revolving around this issue. A similar case against Ford had been earlier dismissed following an appeal.

The complainants from the existing four lawsuits had sought legal redress following a previous dismissal by another judge. In their judgment given Tuesday, the appellate judge asserted that the clandestine capture and logging of mobile phone usage did not violate the provisions of the Washington Privacy Act. According to the act, to be a vulnerable plaintiff, one must demonstrate a threat to “his or her business, his or her person, or his or her reputation.”

To highlight the matters in question, the plaintiffs in one of the five lawsuits launched a legal challenge against Honda in 2021, contending that starting at least in 2014, infotainment systems in Honda’s vehicles have been storing duplicates of all text messages from smartphones once they were connected to the system.

Providing the technology to some car manufacturers, a Maryland-based company named Berla Corporation has nothing to offer the general public, according to the lawsuit. Once text messages have been logged in, Berla’s proprietary software makes it impracticable for car owners to get to their communication history and call logs, but does grant access to law enforcement, claims the lawsuit.

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