A Guy Gets in a Tesla in Ukraine…

A Tesla driver in Ukraine got a “free ride” on Spotify, courtesy of a US Tesla owner whose car was totaled. It was one of the many ways electronic hitchhikers can access your data on so many different kinds of things. This is just the latest story of how our data lives on – and on – when we no longer own (or lease) a car with an infotainment system or Bluetooth, a copier, or a mobile device.

How did a Tesla owner in Ukraine happen to have access to a Spotify account? It happened like this.

An executive news editor at a major TV outlet recently tweeted (or X’d) that a Tesla he had totaled last year was now in southern Ukraine, and the new owner was listening to Drake on his Spotify account. Reporters tracked down what happened to their editor’s car. An online auction site scooped up the Tesla after it was totaled and listed for sale. Someone in Ukraine appears to have won the bid, and the car was shipped from New Jersey to Europe, where its new owner was able to access the editor’s personal Spotify playlists.

The editor contacted Tesla to see how he could log out of his former car, and the company instructed him to disconnect the vehicle from his account. But several steps, such as entering new owner information, were impossible. Experts in data security told reporters that simply disconnecting an account from the car does not prevent your data from being extracted. They said Tesla should have had a feature to “wipe all my info from this car” long ago.

This is far from a Tesla-specific issue. Cars, laptops, smartphones, TVs, and even refrigerators are now internet-connected devices that can store personal data.

In the office, networked copiers are used as printers and scanners and save everything that passes through them. The equipment manufacturers build this in because leases can be based on the number of pages a unit scans, copies or prints. Today’s units also have long service lives after a lease expires. So when you turn back a copier to lease a newer model, the copier company puts it back on the market. Unless you’ve taken specific steps to wipe the data clean, every document run through the copier goes on the market, too.

We must confess we don’t have access to the menus for the service functions that can wipe the data from a unit, and we haven’t found a way into them – yet. So your best resort is to contact your copier company and make sure all your personal data is wiped clean before the machine leaves your premises.

It may take a little searching through the menus for other devices, but you should be able to find the magic button that returns each of them to factory default settings. iPhones are top of mind for this now because the iPhone 15 is hitting the market later this month, and that – along with new phones from other manufacturers – triggers a spree of trade-ins to bring down the price of a new phone. You might also plan to get new computers for your office or your children for the new school year. The same principle applies. Wipe every device clean of all your data.

Along the same lines, wipe them clean if you’re renting a car and using your data on the Bluetooth and infotainment system, including iOS and Android systems that run through the radio. And make sure you log out of your TV subscriptions before checking out of your hotel room or rental home.

If you’re not sure how to wipe a device clean or log out of a subscription, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to walk you through the process. We recommend you do this well before you turn in your car or room key so we’re available to help. In the age of internet-connected vehicles and devices, you never know who’s going to get one of them next.

Payments and Rewards with Your Smart Phone

We love near-field communications (NFC), the technology that enables you to pay for purchases with your smart phone. We love the security factors built into it. Banks and merchants are loving it more, too, because now they launch more loyalty programs to reward themselves – and even you. It’s the logical extension of programs that started with books of trading stamps from grocery stores and gas stations and now extend electronically from purchases at coffee bars to international vacation packages.

There’s a lot at stake for banks and retailers because the citizens of nations with developed economies still spend a lot of money. And while some older consumers dislike waiting for charges to be approved using the more secure chips in their credit cards, millennials and their older siblings are embracing mobile payments. With smart phones almost always accessible, it’s easy to tap a payment station with your phone or hold it close to the station, enter your passcode and keep going with life.

That phone, of course, contains a wealth of information that merchants and banks can tap into with their big-data systems. They can use the data to optimize rewards programs for their customers based on what you and where you buy it. Financial industry research shows that the more affluent you are, the more likely you are to use digital payments whenever you can. And a good number of you are likely to use digital coupons on your smart phone.

You might say a perfect storm is forming. As the use of smart phones grows for all sorts of purchases, merchants and bankers will offer more incentives, and that will draw more people to the technology. That will ratchet up new programs to attract more users in a continuing spiral. The financial industry sees big changes in the next three to five years.

What can our transactional environment look like over the next few years? It’s not that hard to imagine. Your browsing history may show, for example, that you are looking for a new computer in the $1,000 range. With location services turned on for your phone – because you used it to find the fastest route to the shopping mall – the retailer and the bank that supports your credit card can easily deduce that you are entering a store to make a purchase.

Together, the retailer and bank can send a message to your phone to let you know that if you buy a specific computer-and-accessory package today, you are eligible for a discount from the price you saw during your online shopping – or you may be eligible for extra miles from the airline that sponsors your credit card – or you may get extra cash back for this purchase.

Or, your credit card company may have an arrangement with another retailer nearby, and they can offer you rewards to go to their retailer. They can let you know about their specials before you go into any store.

The driver in all of this is likely to be the bank that supports your credit card – or more realistically that has the credit account you access from your phone. They are the ones who “lend” the money when you charge a purchase or collect a handling fee on a debit purchase. The sheer volume of money changing hands creates incentives for them to incentivize you.

In turn, you will need to pay closer attention to the security of your smart phone. You will need to make sure you always have the latest operating system on your phone and that you have all appropriate anti-virus and anti-malware software running – on your computer or tablet as well as on your phone. And you will need to pay special attention to all offers you receive over your smart phone. If a retailer or bank can send a special offer to your smart phone, so can a scammer.

We can help you reap all the benefits of your rewards programs by making sure all of your technology has the latest security software properly set up to match the way you live. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help you make sure you are good to go.