Your new Ute might be spying on you

By Jarrod
4 Min Read

One of Australia’s most popular ute manufacturers has been outed for spying on drivers and sending sensitive personal information overseas.

A recent analysis of the privacy policy from Chinese-owned car manufacturer Great Wall Motors (GWM) revealed customers’ private information is “being made available to third parties outside of Australian jurisdiction and law”.

Aussies will most likely know GWM for their massively popular dual-cab Cannon ute, which sold over 8000 units in 2022 and now accounts for about 4 per cent of the ute market. 

According to the company’s privacy policy, the manufacturer “may disclose personal information to our related companies overseas and to our overseas service providers”.

“The countries in which these third parties are located will depend on the circumstances,” the policy reads.

“In the ordinary course of business, we commonly disclose personal information to parties located in China.”

The Chinese-owned company collects a massive range of personal information from Aussie motorists, including names, addresses, gender, date of birth, mobile phone numbers, email addresses, usernames and passwords, and profile photos.

Device data collected also includes GPS location, message content, message metadata, mobile device identifiers, IP addresses, device brand and model, operating system and browser version.

According to the analysis, GWM fails to disclose what data they collect from in-vehicle systems. It also stores the data “as long as necessary,” and doesn’t say which third parties it shares data with.

While the company promises to anonymise or delete personal information, its app also asks for permission to read all of a device’s media files and for alerts when the user is actively using it.

GWM was contacted for comment.

Chinese cars are a “privacy nightmare”

These findings come after multiple warnings from national and cyber security experts about the risks of buying cheaper Chinese vehicles. 

In an investigation by Sky News earlier this year, Senator James Paterson told reporters that the Chinese technology could pose unimaginable problems for Aussie motorists. 

“The Chinese intelligence law requires all Chinese companies and individuals to assist Chinese intelligence agencies and to keep that covert,” he said.

“The problem that poses, is that any Australian citizen… could effectively have their data fall into the hands of the Chinese Intelligence services and be none the wiser that that has happened.”

Director of Cyber Intelligence at CyberCX, Katherine Mansted, also told reporters that even a small data leak could give power to “people, companies or governments” and described 21st-century vehicles as “data hoovering computers” capable of documenting “where you go and how long you stop”.

Despite the security risks, China has overtaken Korea as Australia’s third-largest source of new cars. In the first nine months of this year, Australians have bought more than 145,000 Chinese vehicles – up 75 per cent on last year’s sales. 

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.