A federal judge in Washington state has dismissed an effort to revive a class action lawsuit surrounding how automakers handle vehicle owners’ private data. Although the specific ruling relates to Volkswagen, it has wider implications for a series of suits against Honda, Toyota, and General Motors.
The decision is the latest blow against privacy advocates, and upholds a previous ruling against plaintiffs who alleged that VW had violated Washington state’s privacy laws. The judge ruled that the practice of recording users’ private text messages and phone calls through a vehicle’s infotainment system does not meet the threshold for an illegal privacy violation.
The ruling revolves around language in the Washington Privacy Act (WPA) that requires plaintiffs to allege an injury to their person, reputation, or business before a privacy violation can be determined. However, the “Plaintiffs’ allegation that a violation of the WPA itself is enough to satisfy injury to a ‘person’… without more, is insufficient to meet the statutory requirements,” the ruling reads.
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The decision is a big win for the four automakers, which are defendants in five related class action lawsuits. According to The Record, Ford was also the target of a similar case, but it was previously dismissed on appeal.
For example, the plaintiffs allege that since at least 2014, the infotainment systems in Honda vehicles began downloading and storing copies of all text messages received by smartphones connected to their infotainment system.
The dismissal of the case comes as privacy advocates are ringing the alarm bells about automakers’ treatment of their users’ privacy. In September, the Mozilla Foundation called modern vehicles “a privacy nightmare,” claiming they failed to meet its basic privacy standards. They alleged that vehicles could collect data on everything from information about a user’s whereabouts to their sexual habits.