Latest Reader Questions (Jan. 24, 2018)

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Here are the latest reader questions, along with my replies:

Clyde asks: All cars sold in 2018 are data miners, certainly. How about older models? When did mining start?

My reply: GM began equipping cars with its OnStar system back in the mid-’90s. This was the first general application of in-car telematics. Other manufacturers followed suit – and since the mid-late 2000s, most if not all cars have the technology to one degree or another. This includes, incidentally, Event Data Recorders (EDRs) which are like the “black boxes” in aircraft that log data – in the case of a car, things like speed, brake application, whether the driver was wearing a seat belt – and so on.

To be free and clear of all this stuff, you’d probably need to go back to the late 1980s and before. But that’s not so bad. Those cars were much simpler and no air bags, either!

John asks: What would happen if you disconnected the antenna on a new car? Would it stop the uplink of data? Is it stored in the car’s system to be uplinked later when the antenna is active or is it purged at some point? Can you, the car owner, manually purge the info in your car?  I currently delete all info when I close out my browser on my laptop.  I have to re-enter access codes and whatnot but I don’t have a contiguous stream of data to be mined.  Is a tactic like this possible with the new cars? Is there a replacement chip or chips available in the aftermarket to gain control of the car from the manufacturers and their co-conspirators?

My reply: I am not sure about this one; hoping someone here who is more tech-hip will chime in. One problem, potentially, is that various in-car systems (e.g., the WiFi and “apps”) might not work. And it’s possible other car systems would be affected. Also, as far as I am aware, there is nothing analogous to the history/cache delete one can use to clear a laptop or desktop computer’s memory. There’s no obvious interface I’m aware of. In no small way, the telematics in the car are not under our control. They are set up specifically to be under the control of the car companies, which consider them proprietary – even though the car is (nominally) yours.

  . . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. RE: removing the antenna. On most modern cars there are actually several antennas in a package, usually located on the roof near the back. Removing the whole thing means you lose the AM/FM radio, satellite radio, GPS navigation and any telemetry systems like On Star. But that isn’t on all vehicles, in fact there might be antennas in the dash, or on the rear deck, or even imbedded in the glass. I imagine some vehicles just have a complete telemetry system with integrated cellular modem installed in the rearview mirror, with a CANBUS cable going to the computer. That way if it wasn’t optioned out at the factory it could be a pretty easy dealer installation. But those systems are probably an exception on anything built since 2012 or so. – pretty interesting thread showing just how difficult it might be to disable the cellular modem. The interesting thing about Fiat-Chrysler’s Uconnect system is that it still uses the modem even if I don’t subscribe to the service. Late last year I was notified of a software upgrade that would be downloaded to my vehicle. I let my subscription end after the free trial, so apparently Chrysler is still paying Sprint for service to the data modem. And that would also imply that ALL of their vehicles have one of these systems installed, even if you don’t have the options.

    • Antennas must be made for the frequencies and power levels they receive and transmit for. A shared package would put them in very close interfering proximity to each other. But for the sake of argument lets say they made it work. If so, they can’t ‘network’ an antenna. This means each device has its own wires leading there.

      There’s no reason to remove this cluster of antennas. Simply find the device you want to blind and disconnect it from the antenna package there. Or pull the connector to the connector package and remove the pins the from the device you want blind from the connector.

      But lets say they chose some route where part of each device was in the antenna and it was networked. Now the ‘antenna’ is probably going to be a fairly large device that can be opened and the individual antennas disconnected.

      The nature of antennas, the base physics, is going to always make them something that can be disconnected one way or another.

  2. eric, my cousin who was a GM tech in the 90’s said the entire history of the vehicle was stored as a log. How I came to get this story was a lot of young men who had no decent work would get a new diesel pickup and continue their mesquite selling bidness once they could afford new equipment. They’d put a 35′ tandem dually gooseneck on a one ton and put 15 tons of wood on one. Transmissions were the weak link. Of course it was no secret these guys were doing semi work with pickups so their second transmission under warranty got scrutinized and the records showed what sort of hell they had suffered.

    It wasn’t long before DOT was stopping and fining hell out of them which put a stop to the whole bidness. To this day you won’t see a load of firewood cause everybody uses dry boxes.


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