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Does your phone know where you’ve parked your car?

Carlton Boyce / 28 December 2016 ( 17 November 2017 )

If you have an iPhone with the latest upgrade, odds are it does…

A sea of parked cars

The debate about artificial intelligence has been rumbling on for decades now, with one side claiming that it won’t be long before the ‘machines take over’ while the other claims that any technological intelligence can only ever be as good as the human that programmed it.

What is undeniable is that the pace of change is fast - and ever increasing - and if you don’t believe me then all you have to do is to update your iPhone to iOS10 and swipe right: you should see that your iPhone now knows where you’ve parked your car.

The details

Of course, it’s not witchcraft, no matter how much it might resemble it. All that has happened is that your iPhone has made the entirely reasonable assumption that when you disconnect it from Apple CarPlay or your car’s Bluetooth connection you have parked your car.

It stores the location and makes it available to you from the home screen just in case you manage to misplace your car. Tapping the ‘Parked Car’ app opens Apple Maps enabling you to navigate straight to the driver’s door.

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What is Apple CarPlay?

CarPlay is Apple’s proprietary system for connecting your iPhone to your car’s stereo system. It mirrors the functions of your iPhone on the central screen, allowing you to listen to music, reply to text messages, use Apple maps, and keep up to date with your favourite podcast while you’re on the move. (It probably lets you make phone calls, too.)

It’s now a standard piece of software on most new cars, and can be retrofitted to some older models.

Sounds great!

It is; it works brilliantly allowing car manufacturers to offer you seamless connectivity without having to develop their own (possibly inferior) systems.

There must be a downside, right?

Yep. Remember the Luddites that insist that any machine can only ever be as good as the programmer? Well, the new Parked Car app is a classic example.

Let me explain. I’m very lucky in that I get to drive several new cars every week, and I synch my iPhone with every one.

The problem is that phones and cars are essentially just pretty, but dumb, chunks of metal and glass, so when the very nice chap from the press fleet garage collected his shiny new car, my iPhone didn’t know that.

And because I hadn’t yet connected my phone to another car it kept telling me that I’d parked my car 30 metres away when it was actually sitting on an industrial state in Milton Keynes.

A minor inconvenience, surely?

Well, yes. Maybe.

But what if the police or security services were under the mistaken impression that I was a threat to national security and were tracking my iPhone? They’d be able to convince any right-thinking jury that my car was in Llangollen when actually it was a hundred and forty-three miles away.

You think I’m being far-fetched? Not a bit of it; I recently gave a speech on this very subject to a conference of traffic police officers from around the world and many came up to me afterwards to tell me that they shared my concerns.

After all, they are very nearly as keen as I am to make sure I’m not wrongly convicted of an offence because of duff data.

Is your car spying on you?

Android phones can do it too!

Just use the Google app. When you’ve parked, a card in your Google app feed says 'Parking location'. If you can’t find the parking location app, open Google, choose the Menu in the bottom right and tap 'Customize', 'Transportation', 'How do you usually commute?' and 'Driving'.

Can I turn it off?

Yes. Just press ‘Settings’, ‘Maps’ and then toggle off ‘Show Parked Location’ under the ‘YOUR CAR’ header.

My gripe is that I didn’t ask for this feature to be enabled, and nor was I told about it after updating my iPhone. Privacy is an important issue and manufacturers and developers cannot make assumptions like this.

(By the way, I am not convinced that turning it off does anything other than turn off the notifications; I am pretty sure that the information is still being collected.)

What can I do?

If you are concerned about your privacy you need to be vigilant.

You can check your iPhone’s privacy settings (Settings > Privacy) and make sure that you are only allowing access to the apps and features that you really need.

Or you can relax and ignore the ramblings of a paranoid motoring journalist. But don’t say I didn’t warn you when there’s a knock on the door in the early hours of the morning…

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.