Autotech can facilitate domestic abuse, warns US agency

12 Jan 2024

Image: © Maksym/

Tesla, Ford, Toyota and others have been asked to provide details about their handling of geolocation data and how they support domestic abuse survivors.

Companies that manufacture and distribute autotech, that is any kind of technology used to assist drivers, have been warned that their products may be contributing to criminal behaviour.

Autotech products such as hands-free communication tools and ‘find your vehicle’ trackers are sometimes used by domestic abuse perpetrators to stalk their victims. The chair of the US watchdog that oversees the regulation of communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable has warned autotech and wireless service providers to be vigilant when it comes to this type of abuse.

Jessica Rosenworcel, chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), sent letters to nine of the largest auto companies serving the US market. The recipients were asked about the connected car systems they offer, how consumers’ geolocation data is handled and any plans they may have to support survivors to disconnect from abusers.

Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Stellantis, Tesla and Toyota are now being asked to supply these details to the FCC.

Rosenworcel also wrote to wireless providers Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile asking much the same questions as she did of the autotech companies. She asked the wireless companies if they are compliant with existing US legislation that helps protect victims’ privacy from abusers.

“No survivor of domestic violence and abuse should have to choose between giving up their car and allowing themselves to be stalked and harmed by those who can access its data and connectivity. We must do everything we can to help survivors stay safe,” she said. “We need to work with auto and wireless industry leaders to find solutions.”

Not a new issue

As part of her time at the FCC, Rosenworcel has made the issue of safeguarding domestic abuse and stalking survivors part of her mission. Her appeals to companies to get on board may be connected to a recent report by The New York Times, which was mentioned in the letters. That report uncovered disturbing details about how survivors are being tracked by abusers using tracking tech intended for vehicles.

It’s not just autotech that abusers are using to harm people; any kind of tracking technology or even communication apps are often used to intimidate and harass. In 2022, Apple came under fire for its AirTag devices, which had been reportedly used to track people without their knowledge. In response, the company made updates to its tech to help protect against this abuse.

As part of the For Tech’s Sake podcast by, we heard from Louise O’Hagan from Cyber Awareness Ireland on the red flags related to digital abuse such as this.

Cyber Awareness Ireland is a good resource for anyone in Ireland who is concerned about tech-facilitated abuse.

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic