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Nissan car secretly shares driver data with websites

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Electric cars manufactured by Nissan surreptitiously leak detailed information about a driver's location, speed and destination to websites accessed through the vehicle's built in RSS reader, a security blogger has found.

The Nissan Leaf is a 100-percent electric car that Nissan introduced seven months ago. Among its many innovations is a GSM cellular connection that lets drivers share a variety of real-time data about the car, including its location, driving history, power consumption, and battery reserves. Carwings, as the service is known, then provides a number of services designed to support “eco-driving,” such as break downs of the vehicle's energy efficiency based on comparisons with other owners.

But according to Seattle-based blogger Casey Halverson, Carwings includes the detailed data in all web requests the Nissan Leaf sends to third-party servers that the driver has subscribed to through RSS, or real simple syndication. Each time the driver accesses a given RSS feed, the car's precise geographic coordinates, speed, and direction are sent in clear text. The data will also include the driver's destination if it's programmed in to the Leaf's navigation system, as well as data available from the car's climate control settings.

“All of these lovely values are being provided to any third party RSS provider you configure: CNN, Fox News, Weather Channel, it doesn't matter!” Halverson wrote here. “While a lot of these providers are probably not aware of these (rather valuable) parameters the car passes, they probably sit in thousands of HTTP logs already, waiting to be parsed out – or perhaps supported in the future.”

There is no way to prevent the data from being sent, and the Carwings service issues no warning that third parties are receiving the data, Halverson added.

The revelation is the latest example of a location-based service with the potential to seriously jeopardize the privacy of its users. Data collected by both Apple's iPhone and Google's Android mobile operating system have created concern among some researchers and privacy advocates. In April, navigation device maker TomTom apologized for supplying driving data collected from customers to police to use in catching speeding motorists.

Halverson told The Reg Carwings asks users for permission to send location-based data to Nissan, but he said there is no warning that the same information also gets shared with all RSS feeds the user has subscribed to.

“The data is inadvertently being leaked out ,” he said. “I don’t think there is any ill intent.”

Third-party websites could use the information to tailor services in real time based on the driver's location, direction and other data. But with that data being secretly shared with third parties each time a driver accesses an RSS subscription, it's easy to imagine Carwings becoming a privacy liability for users whose whereabouts are sensitive, such as those who work with survivors of domestic abuse or those in law enforcement. ®

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