The Stories Your Cars Can Tell

We got two cars in the same week in the past month. One was a brand-new Honda CR-V, and the other 2010 Corvette, and both have Bluetooth technology. The Bluetooth was able to tell me more about both cars than anyone might think of. And therein lies a cautionary tale for you, which can apply to any car with Bluetooth that you may drive.

We’ve noted before that Bluetooth settings in car systems can linger for the life of the vehicle, and we’ve cautioned you to make sure you erase all your settings before you turn in a car. Otherwise, somebody can get your phonebook, text messages and anything else that may have come from your phone to the Bluetooth. We saw two examples with our new cars.

The first one was with our new CR-V, which we got because the lease on our Acura was up and because we wanted to try a car with a hybrid system. Apparently, hybrid CR-Vs are not ubiquitous, and our car dealer had to do a swap. We got a “brand spanking new” car with 170 miles on it, which is really not a problem. But whoever drove the car put their own phone into the Bluetooth settings into the car and never erased them. The driver’s cell phone info was still in the car when I got it.

This time, it was not a problem. I have no interest or need for that data, and I simply erased it all by going back to the factory settings. I set my old car back to the factory settings before I turned it in, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no way that car will compromise my security. I didn’t want to take the chance of being as lucky as the former owners of my new (for me) Corvette.

I bought the car through Carvana, and they delivered it on a flatbed truck – just like in the TV ads. Yes, it’s my midlife crisis car; I’ve always wanted a sports car, and I am enjoying it. But it is a car from another technology and digital technology era, and there was a Bluetooth issue that I didn’t realize until I tried to call home.

When I told the car to call home, it called a number that was not my home. It called a number in Warrenton, VA. When the people there answered the call, I asked them if they once had a 2010 blue Corvette that they sold to Carvana? They said yes, so I identified myself as the new owner.

Before you start thinking otherwise, we had a very nice call. Although I had learned a lot about the car from the Carfax report, they told me how much they had loved the car, how they kept it garaged and how much they hated to sell it because they just couldn’t keep it anymore. We talked about caring for the car and if we ever drive near Warrenton to make sure we stop by for a visit.

They also said they thought they had erased everything in the Bluetooth history, and they were relieved that nothing they left in the car will ever come back to haunt them. But none of us can ever be that lucky. If you’re turning in a car in which you used Bluetooth, you need to wipe the history clean – especially with a rental car.

Why is that important? Here’s just one example. If you called ahead to get a hotel room and need to give your credit card info over the phone, the phone number for the reservation center is there. It’s really easy for whoever gets that phone number to call the same reservation center and make up a story about wanting to confirm a charge on a specific credit card – and entice the call center person to read back the entire number.

If you’re not sure how to get a Bluetooth system back to its factory setting, call us – 973-433-6676 – to walk you through the process. Or, if you have time or are in a different time zone with a huge difference in time, send us an email, and we’ll respond back either with the directions for your car’s system or general steps that are likely to get the job done. You don’t want your car telling stories about you behind your back.

The Bluetooth Blues Will Make You See Red

Many people are unaware of all the places that Bluetooth connects your devices to. They’re more than just your phone to your headset. Apple brought this to light in their release of iOS 13, and one of their biggest rivals, Google, and Facebook may be the biggest culprits. Here’s what you need to know.

Of course, one of the reasons Apple has brought this up is that its new iOS 13 enables you to allow which applications can have Bluetooth access to your location. When you deny access, you’ll lose some functionality, but you have the option.

Why are Google, Facebook and others stalking you? It’s obvious: they can promote a product or service for someone to sell you. They’ve been doing it for a while. All they had to do was set up a network of Bluetooth devices that could detect your presence and deliver a popup notification on behalf of a retailer, product manufacturer, restaurant, etc. At the same time, apps such as those for ride sharing and banking also use Bluetooth, and you might not be able to get a ride or complete a transaction without it. But at least now you’ll know who’s tracking you, and you’ll know why because the app has to state its purpose for it.

The infuriating part is that before iOS 13, you never knew when you entered one of their tracking zones, and there was nothing you could do about it. The new OS changes that. It will tell you when an app wants to use Bluetooth to use your location data. You’ll then have the option to allow it or deny it. You’ll also have the option to deny an application access to your location automatically – until you decide to grant access. The process to deny access until you change your mind is straightforward: Go to Settings > Privacy > Bluetooth and toggle apps on or off.

Installing the latest software – iOS 13 for iPhone 6 and later and newer versions of iPad – is one example of why it’s critical to have all of your software up to date. Many people don’t realize that devices in homes and offices have operating-system software, which is known as firmware. This includes smart TVs and the massive copiers that you get from an equipment dealer. Google has many ways to track locations and user data, and you don’t know about them.

If you’re mad as hell about your privacy and don’t want to take invasions from unknown parties anymore, we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to walk you through a software update process or schedule an appointment to do it.

Automotive Electronics Systems are Flat Tires

In an article about the reliability of automotive brands, in-car electronics systems took the big hits for some big brands. Surprising? Not at all.

We’re putting a lot of pressure on electronics, and they, in turn, are putting pressure on our cars’ batteries and our overall perception of how well our cars are working. Batteries are becoming the most-replaced part in our cars, and it’s no wonder. With all the power accessories we depend on, such as our infotainment systems and power seats, and the increasing replacement of mechanical systems with electrical and electronic systems, we put a lot of strain on our batteries. That’s something those of us in the Northeast might want to note as we head into winter.

Strong batteries, however, won’t solve some inherent problems that I’ve noticed. Our electronic infotainment systems are slow to integrate with other systems, everything from climate control to navigation, radios and Bluetooth connections for phones or music playlists. When we’re driving and depending on our navigation system and the defroster, for example, we need speedy integration. We can’t afford to take our eyes off the road for more than a split second. We also can’t afford a glitch in the performance of either function. When a turn comes up in heavy traffic, we need to be in position to make the turn safely. And, at the same time, we need to be able to see where we’re going. If our system is slow, we get distracted from our driving, and that could cause an accident.

Distraction seems to be a major problem from reports we’ve seen. The big areas of concern are the size of the screens themselves and how the systems integrate with Apple CarPlay (which I have in my Volvo) and Android Auto. Some drivers can’t always be sure whether they’re using their phone’s system or their car’s. That confusion can be a distraction, especially if your car and your phone have you plugged into different navigation systems – and one of them may not be sending you where you want to go.

We should briefly note, too, that some in-car systems are compatible only with Apple or Android systems or can favor one system over the other. That’s something you should know when you set up your car system, your phone or both. For example, we love Waze, but it’s not available through CarPlay. Google Maps has some features that are not available on Apple Maps, and that reflects a larger problem of your car’s system telling you which apps you can or cannot use.

Just to note, there are some current topics related to in-car systems. First, Bluetooth is still an issue when setting it up in older cars or to work as an installed capability with Apple or Android systems. Second, Lexus has decided to develop its own in-car systems. They may or may not work with Apple and Android systems, but the cars will have apps that tie in with your mobile devices, giving you some control or monitoring the car and its operations while you’re not there. A few comments about kids and valet parking come to mind for that.

The other distraction is the visual distraction, and that has two parts.

Some displays are just too big, and one that comes to mind right away is Tesla’s 17-inch touchscreen. That’s bigger than many laptop computers, and there are two problems. First, it’s large area to scan when you need to change something, and that can take more of your attention when you’re driving. This may be less a consideration for a driverless car, but today, you need to drive. It also creates a large reflection or a large bright light that can be a distraction.

The flipside is that a smaller screen can take you too long to pinpoint the place you need to touch for the action you require. That can take up more of your attention, too, and lead to an accident.

Some systems don’t have a screen layout that may be good for you. And while you can overcome some of that by locking the locations of some functions in your memory, the pressure of all the decisions you need to make while driving may negate that.

With all their current problems or shortcomings, in-car electronics will play bigger roles in your car and how you drive – or don’t drive it. Many of the things we see, such as warnings, automatic braking and stopping systems, navigation and self-parking are precursors of automated or driverless cars.

But while we’re still in the present, we can help you set up and integrate Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and your mobile devices and apps in new or older cars. There are lots of set-up options, and we can help your sort them through and make sure your setup is what you need. Call us -973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.

Brave New Wireless World

It’s a wireless world out there, and it’s getting “wirelesser” every day. Not getting tangled up in wires can make for carefree experiences – as long as you’re not careless about your online presence. That’s especially true as you travel this summer. Here are some safety tips.

First, understand that we are not only living in a wireless world, we’re living in a Bluetooth world. To get it down to very simple terms, Bluetooth enables you to set up a short-distance radio broadcast/reception system, and for most applications, it’s a plug-and-play deal. You pair your mobile device with whatever broadcast system you’ll be using, and you’re good to go.

If you’re flying somewhere this summer, you’ll likely use a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for your inflight entertainment. Airlines are eliminating the seatback screens and related systems to reduce weight and space requirements. Mobile-device manufacturers are eliminating external ports for the same reasons. As a result, you’ll be likely to watch inflight movies or TV shows from the plane’s Wi-Fi network or watch programming you’ve already downloaded to your device or computer. And, you’re also likely to use Bluetooth headphones or earbuds.

Besides inflight entertainment, Bluetooth systems can be used to connect your phone or tablet to guided tours in museums, parks and other attractions. In addition, many cameras use Bluetooth to upload photo cards to mobile devices or computers.

Because it’s a broadcast system, there are security holes. You can start by trying to make sure your device or computer has Level Four Bluetooth security. That has the strongest authentication protocol, which can help your security. Newer phones, tablets and computers are more like to have this capability. Regardless of the security level, here are a few steps to help you secure your devices:

  • Make them “non-discoverable” when you have them in use. Turn off Bluetooth when you aren’t using the device.
  • Use headphones or earbuds with signal encryption.
  • Download and install all software updates and security patches.
  • Maintain physical control of enabled devices and “unpair” any that are lost or stolen.

Second, more and more of us are using Wi-Fi hotspots to enjoy the many benefits of internet connectivity while we’re on the go. Remember, you’re on unsecured – and untrusted – networks when you use these hotspots, so practice good security. You should especially make sure you and your family members avoid online banking or shopping on these networks, and that includes making online changes to your travel reservations or using a ridesharing app like Uber or Lyft.

Using a cellular network is safer, but make sure you have uploaded all the latest upgrades for your OS and apps and all security patches. Also make sure you have new, strong passwords and change them while you travel.

You might want to couple this with reviewing and/or deactivating any accounts you no longer use. A client recently got an email from Microsoft about an account that might have been compromised. We helped verify it was a legitimate message and traced it back to a free account or something that wound up being based in Turkey. He was able to access it and change the password; no harm, no foul.

However, it does raise the point that security and privacy laws vary among countries, and that you can’t depend on any company or government to guarantee your privacy and security when you’re connected to the internet or a Wi-Fi network.

We can help you make sure you have your security bases covered before you travel domestically or internationally – or even if you’re just going around the corner. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your travel-security needs.

iPhone 7 and New Product Evolution

I have my new iPhone 7 – without the headphone jack. You know what? I have computers without built-in CD/ROM drives, and automotive entertainment systems don’t have CD players either. Get used to more with less because device makers are under constant pressure to provide more features and capabilities in the smallest possible package.

By removing the jack, Apple has freed up more room for other bells and whistles, such as the better camera system. If you’re one of those people who takes a lot of photos or video with your iPhone, that’s likely to be more important to you than the headphone jack.

Removing the jack, by the way, doesn’t mean Apple has eliminated headphones. You’ll just have to go wireless, which more and more of us are doing anyway. Just about everyone has a Bluetooth connection in their cars, for example, or a Bluetooth headset. For those who still plug in headphones or headsets, it’s just a change you’ll need to get used to.

We can look at a couple of developments to put technological evolution into context. Apple was the first computer maker to eliminate internal CD/ROM drives from its units. That allowed them to make their computers lighter and smaller. If you carry the development forward, across a number of platforms, you can easily see why tablets are replacing laptops for many people.

Tablets don’t have to hold built-in hard drives. By using either cellular or Wi-Fi networks, they connect to the Cloud, where users can access application programs and data. Continually evolving software development gives users a great deal of computing capability for mobile platforms, and you generally have the choice of using a lightweight, portable keyboard or using an onscreen keyboard and swipes to do your work or find the information you seek. In some cases, voice technology is making the keyboard obsolete.

In more technologically advanced cars, you don’t find CD players – which, by the way, replaced cassette tape players many years ago. Who needs either one of them? With Bluetooth technology, you can connect your playlist from your phone or tablet to the car’s sound system. And when you get out of the car, just switch to your Bluetooth headset and never a miss a beat.

Technology is changing the way we do business, too. For example, a kitchen designer can give a couple virtual reality goggles and let them view a potential kitchen as though they are standing in the room. From a computer, the designer can change configurations or colors of cabinets and countertops.

For some, change is intimidating and confusing. We can help you be more comfortable with selecting new technology and learning how to use the features you need or want. Just call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up a time.

Phones, Autos and Bluetooth

If you’ve purchased a new iPhone or Droid phone and expect it work seamlessly in your relatively new car, you may be experiencing technical difficulties. Phone technology is miles ahead of automotive communications technology.

We have to admit it drove us “nuts” for a while, trying to get our new iPhone to sync with the Bluetooth system in our car. The hands-free voice capability did not work, and for someone – such as yours truly – who is always on the road and needs to communicate with customers having urgent needs, Bluetooth is a necessity.

We contacted a lot of different companies, and we essentially learned that you need to take a step back to move forward. The latest phones use Bluetooth 4; even the newest cars are running Bluetooth 1 or 2.

Thus, your solution is to downgrade the app on your phone to match the Bluetooth version in your car. While it’s not ideal, we understand the reason – as the situation currently exists. Even if you have the latest and greatest communications technology that was available for your car, it quickly goes out of date. And while it’s easy to get a new phone every year and get other devices pretty often, you generally don’t get a new car every year.

We can help you match your phone and other devices to your car’s Bluetooth system. Sometimes we can even walk you through the steps over the phone. Call us at 973-433-6676 or email us for help. Just have your car’s year, make and model info handy as well as the make and model of your cellphone or device. The ultimate answer will be for auto manufacturers and suppliers to figure out a better way for you to upgrade your car’s Bluetooth version, but in the meantime, we can help you now.