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Trace the Information: Can your car spy on you?

SKILL: Trace the Information

DIFFICULTY: Challenging

SUBJECT(S): Science

Students will trace the information closer to the original source to find that while your car isn't watching your every move, the data it collects might not be as private as you think.


Car makers are increasingly incorporating “smart” features into new models, allowing you to access various apps connected to the internet right from your vehicle. These features have become so advanced that modern cars are sometimes described as “computers on wheels.”

In our digital world, consumer data has become a valuable commodity. Many of the tech products we use collect data on their users’ traits and behaviours to show them targeted advertisements or to improve their products’ functionality. Some companies share or sell this information to other parties. 

However, some companies are more transparent and ethical about the ways that they use and collect data than others. There are some groups, like the Mozilla Foundation, that act as watchdogs, reporting on companies’ privacy practices to help consumers understand the ways that their personal information may be collected and used.

About the Example

This tweet from @RealJoeyConfrey claims that “your car has “unmatched power” to spy on you,” and links to an article by Axios

Clicking through to the article by Axios, we find that the tweet was taken from their headline, “Your car has “unmatched power” to spy on you — and share the data.” 

The article references a report from the Mozilla Foundation that studied the consumer data policies for 25 car brands, with some concerning findings. While your car might not be spying in the sense that it is watching your every move, its ability to collect, share, and even sell your personal data definitely constitutes an invasion of privacy. 

The Axios article is an example of ‘reporting on reporting,’ in which a news organisation writes an article based on the findings of another publication. By clicking into the Mozilla Foundation’s report, we can learn even more context about this story.

The article by Mozilla Foundation provides many more details, like which car brands they reviewed, what sort of information the companies can collect, and how different companies compare on different privacy features.


  1. Ask students what they know about data collection and privacy, and fill in any relevant contextual gaps.
  2. Show students the tweet and have them identify the claim and its implications.
  3. Have students click the link to the Axiom article, and ask them to identify the claim’s original source. 
  4. Have students skim the Mozilla Foundation report up to the section “At a glance: How the car brands stack up.” Guiding questions: 
    • What does the Axiom article’s headline mean by “spying?” Is this different from how you understood the original tweet? 
    • Is the tweet’s claim mostly true, mostly false, or something else? Explain your reasoning.
    • Did the report from the Mozilla Foundation include any additional context to help you understand the claim? What did you find?

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