The intense, determined integration of computers into modern cars has been happening unabated for some time now, and while we’re all pretty used to screens all over our dashboard and even coming to terms with miserable applications of touchscreen tech, there’s still some aspects of driving around full computer systems on wheels that we’ve only begun to confront. One of which was revealed, charmingly, by a realtor with a used Toyota Tacoma that displayed a picture of an adorable elderly couple every time the car was turned on. There’s a simple explanation, but it’s also a sort of warning if you think about it.
Because we live in the now, the situation was demonstrated on TikTok for your viewing enjoyment/voluntary brainwashing:
@becky_call_realtorHad to get a new vehicle last weekend as my previous one died ????Didn’t realize this one comes with a bonus ????♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey
I mean, objectively, this is hilarious. Every time she turns on her car, she sees a picture of some older couple at a restaurant, and then it goes away. Who are they? What do they want? Why are they in that truck?
Really, the reason is simple, it’s just not in a category that we’ve traditionally associated with cars. It’s someone else’s data, basically. This is clearly a used 2016-ish Tacoma—that head unit was discontinued a few years back—and one of the features of that head unit was that it could display a custom image, loaded via a USB flash drive, upon system startup.
There’s even videos about how to do this:
Based on the ages of the people in the image, I’m going to guess that the image was likely uploaded by a younger relative, or, perhaps a younger person with a special fondness for, say, their grandparents. Or, hell, who am I to say, maybe the people in that image owned the truck, and my assumptions about older people and tech are just ageist and wrong. Who knows?
What I do know is that when this truck was sold, nobody bothered to delete any of the previous owner’s data, because if they did, surely they’d delete that charming but confusing picture and let the truck display the default Tacoma startup image.
This whole thing is a good reminder that modern cars are basically computers, and as computers, they have likely far more of your data in them than you realize. Not clearing out and resetting your car’s onboard systems before selling it is as potentially a bad idea as leaving your license and registration and a few dirty Polaroids of yourself in the glove box before selling a car. And, if you’ve paired your phone with your car, there are likely even more data that has been exchanged, likely even without you realizing it.
Also, this is a feature on a seven-year-old Tacoma; just imagine what a modern car or the EVs headed our way in the coming years might be capable of keeping data-wise. That’s almost scary to think about.
So, let’s consider this unknown, patient-looking old couple a harbinger of the age we live in, a reminder of something important: cars store data, so clear it out before you sell.
Otherwise, the out-to-eat old couple may find you! Ooh ha ha ha ha ha!
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My old 2015 Civic still has like 6 different phones associated with it. Have to figure out how to delete or reset it.
This is one of my favorite things to do with rental cars. Browse all of the data that synced with the car from prior renters that hooked their phone up to it.
Stored text messages, contact information, stored destinations in the nav, name of the phone (ex. Jays iPhone), call history. It’s really interesting and sometimes you see some funny entries.
I have seen other folks Netflix accounts left logged in at Air BNB’s several times. Sure beats having to use mine.
I just rented a VRBO in Florida. There were 3 different accounts for Netflix, Prime, and Disney+ already logged in. Our late-night drinking game was to start watching weird movies just to mess with Justin23’s selection algorithm!
OK first of all, I’m not sure how I would fit in the glove box to have Polaroids taken, dirty or otherwise..
Second, as someone who used to rent cars on a weekly basis, I can say every one of them, unless spanking new, had someone else’s phone not just paired, but their contact list uploaded.. Sometimes multiple users.
I once rented a car that had someones contact list in it. One of the contacts was named, umm, “D**k sucking whore.” Don’t pair your phone.
Man, these ads everywhere really are getting out of hand.
You, uh, still got that number?
I don’t know how to approach the subject of factory resetting a car with my parents, but I know I should. I suspect they don’t, but I think telling them they should would confuse and frighten them. And I certainly don’t want to travel every time they trade one in. I don’t know if I can coach them through it over the phone.
This is something that I would expect a halfway-decent dealer (lol) to take care of during the trade-in process and prep for resale. Even if the dealer neglects to, however, wiping data is pretty low on the list of worries. The new owner wouldn’t get much more than a list of locations in the GPS and maybe some contacts in the phonebook. Yes, it’s possible for those things to be used in nefarious ways (we should all set our GPS “home” location at least a few blocks away from our actual homes), but most people aren’t criminals. Having the previous owner’s data still in the car would be nothing more than an annoyance or a curiosity.
I live in a gas station myself.
Sure, the odds of something going wrong are low. But my mother may eventually hear about this from another source and she will absolutely panic. I do think the fact that they like their dealer will help, but panicking is her primary hobby. I need to go ahead and talk to them before that panic sets in.
I, too, have parents who can be panicky at times, and I’ve found that showing them patterns is more effective than pointing out every possible pitfall that’s out there. There’s just too many things to worry about, but if you can get them to understand common patterns, they’ll be more effective at dealing with them on their own.
For example, I’ll forward them scam emails I receive to point out “teachable moments”. I know that the odds of them receiving the exact same scam email are infinitesimal, but I can say things like: “See how they’re using words that make you want to act quickly? Don’t fall for it! Take a deep breath and think about it before you ever take any action.” or “See how they’re asking for payment in Apple gift cards? No legitimate business does this.” They’ve gotten pretty good at identifying them now.
In this case, I’d go over some basic PII security measures — effectively, always be aware of what information about you is floating around out there and who might be able to get their hands on it in different scenarios. My folks are probably more diligent about this than I am, even going so far as to shred their junk mail because it has their names and address on it, but I suppose it’s better to be overly cautious than not cautious enough.
Scams like this are far older than the internet. How is it your parents never got a letter from a Nigerian prince/banker/finance minister/widow or a desperate phone call from their “grandson” in jail? Some of these scams even come right to the front door. In the mid 90’s San Diego TV stations used to announce whenever the big Gypsy families would roll into town. They were famous for the roofing scam. They’d put in a super low bid, take a down payment, strip off the old roof, claim they needed much more to buy the materials and disappear when they got it leaving the victim with no roof at all. Rinse, repeat.
I fully expect my mom to call me at 9:30pm on a weeknight, throw me into a panic because my first thought is something tragic happened, only to have her warn me about this because she heard about it on the local news.
This. Use that annoying neighbor’s address
It was court ordered after the former owner drove over those people- oops nope it wasn’t a Mustang
“… just imagine what a modern car or the EVs headed our way in the coming years might be capable of keeping data-wise”
Our 10 year old aftermarket head unit can have custom wallpapers, shows album art from the USB and HD radio stations, or if you prefer can have cool visualizations that sync to the music.
Our 5 year old EV car of the future has 3 “themes” to pick from, no custom wallpaper, doesn’t show album art from usb or sirius xm, can’t even play HD radio, also can’t be upgraded as the hvac and ev stuff is tied into the car.
I can imagine it will only get worse as automakers lock down the head units with the giant screens and non-user-serviceable hardware that will be outdated in another 5 years. But to your point I’m sure it will keep all that sweet sweet data even if we ‘delete’ it.
Just remembered that I uploaded a photo of my kids on a ’12 Veracruz which I later sold to a college kid. I bet the pic of my son in a shark costume (trick or treating) haunts him to this day! I haven’t given this any thought in 10 years, thats awesome!
It would have been better if it were a new car, and that picture was totally random. This makes me want to upload a stupid picture to my wife’s Toyota before we trade it in just to mess with people.
I said the same thing in a Mastodon thread this morning. So few people delete their data. I go to photograph a car at work (Hyundai dealer) and when I open navigation, I’m sometimes presented with a list of recent destinations. Then I can go and find that the previous owner’s Home, and often Work, addresses are still in the system.
Don’t dox yourself. Delete all of your data off digital devices before trading them in. Cars are digital devices now but way behind the curve; I can delete a user profile but it still keeps so much data I have to go through and manually delete. Fifteen years ago I could format an Xbox 360 trade-in in one go; now I have to dig through esoteric menus for ten minutes to make sure I got it all.
Anyway, I posted about it this morning because the other day I found that among the remote devices registered to the car – right along side “Brian’s iPhone” – was a device called “Dickens Cider”. Man, that was a throwback.
Possession is 9/10ths of the law?
Does that mean that if you don’t pay your exorcist you get repossessed?
Oh great, now we’ll never hear the end about Hunter Biden’s truck.
HUNTER BIDENS TRUCK IS REAL!!!1
One of my favorite things to do when I get a rental car is to page through the data history, see who has driven it where, and then delete all the information.
People are f’ing dumb about their digital presence.
So…as a guy who investigates car accidents and insurance fraud for a living, let’s just say that the start-up photo is probably the least of your worries for “data accidentally left on a car”. You know that GPS thing that tells you where to go? It also knows where you’ve already been. Did you ever use the GPS to get to your mistress’s house? Heck, most cars even know what exact time (and location) each different phone was connected and disconnected, the address books, texts sent, etc. And it (often) isn’t just for the 10 most recent phones that the rental car remembers either…
My newest car is forty years old which explains at least two of the reasons why visiting a mistress is not something I need to worry about.
I don’t know, if one of them is an S-Type Jaaaaa-aaagggg a mistress is part of the package. Yes, you make her pay for everything but she’s still in the picture…
See, I like to leave little Easter Eggs on press cars. The last one (a Pacifica) greeted me with “WELCOME TO VAN TIME” on the screen. I set a Cayenne to say “y’all gots gud parsh” as its gauge-cluster welcome note. If I knew about this photo feature, oh man. It’s Puffalump time.
This is also a thing for WIFI passwords. Use a message to your sex crazed neighbors to tone it down.
If only the new owner can see the picture, then she’s just nuts. Since we can all see the picture, old data is the likely issue, but you can’t rule out possession, ‘cause, after all, possession is 9/10s of the law.
Possession is 9/10s of the law?
Does that mean that if you don’t pay your exorcist you get repossessed?
Yeah, every time I sell/trade a car I make sure to reset homelink, head units, nav systems back to factory settings.
On a related subject, I’ve rented cars with other people’s contact lists still saved in the phone menu. Don’t do that. Its like leaving your email signed in on the computer in the hotel business center (which people also still do for some reason)
A couple of thoughts here
1. A picture appearing on a digital screen is MUCH less likely to be a demonic possession than a face appearing in a mirror or analog gauge.
2. If I were selling an old Tacoma to a friend, I would probably upload a picture of my pale hairy butt to the screen.
This is pretty funny, but it is definitely a reminder that before selling a car people should read through the owners manual and figure out how to wipe all their user data from the infotainment system.
“there are likely even more data that has been exchanged”
You’ve solved the data is always plural/can be singular argument! Data are versatile, and has unique grammatical properties!
Yes I am.
That reminds me of an xkcd comic (because there’s always a comic for everything).
I’d jump in with a relevant comment but I only allow myself one tirade per day on the subject of Latin plurals, unless I’ve saved up in advance for a special occasion, and I already used today’s for the whole prii vs. priora thing in the discussion following the Grand Wagoneer article.
The newest model is the Prius Data, now with the needlessly confusing and blatantly incorrect plural Datum Priora!
Just use a different timezone. It is always yesterday and tomorrow somewhere.