The case for, and cost of, disabling Car-Net

Old 01-31-2018, 01:12 PM
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Exclamation The case for, and cost of, disabling Car-Net

Car-Net is VW’s implementation of what is generally referred to as telematics. The car contains a cellular radio through which many functions can be controlled, operations performed, location tracked, and engine/systems data collected. VW sells some of these functions to consumers through a subscription service, such as remotely unlocking the doors, locating the parked car, geo-fencing, checking the fuel level, etc. It also can automatically call emergency services in the event of an accident (although I would point out that my Honda HR-V will do the same thing for free using Bluetooth through my own phone – it doesn’t have a cellular radio of its own). If you’re interested, see for more information.

For some people these services are worth the subscription cost, although judging from posts on various websites, the current price point ($200/year or $18/month) makes it relatively unpopular. Of course you can opt not to subscribe. But it’s important to be aware that even if you don’t subscribe, there are two “costs” to having Car-Net operating in your vehicle. The first cost is loss of privacy. VW retains the ability to communicate with your car without your knowledge or consent, to control various systems, and to monitor virtually every aspect of its operation including audio and location. To my knowledge, there is no law in the U.S. that prohibits VW from such monitoring. Except for acknowledging that they may provide location information to law enforcement upon request, VW does not divulge how they uses these capabilities, or under what circumstances. But I know from personal experience that they are doggedly determined not to relinquish them.

I know that I will be accused of being paranoid, or wearing a tin-foil hat for worrying about this. But I have my own metaphor for those who are so dismissive. They are frogs being slowly brought to a boil in a surveillance society where privacy is gradually ebbing away because of their apathy. By the time they realize it’s a problem it will be too late. And I know to a moral certainty that any system that can be abused eventually will be abused.The second cost is hacking risk. One can easily imagine some black hat deciding to hack into VW’s systems to disable every VW in the U.S. for fun – or ransom; or hackers could simply unlock individual doors to facilitate theft; or ______ you fill in the blank. So for those of us who elect not to buy Car-Net’s subscription services, the presence of this equipment presents only downside.

Given all this I set about to have Car-Net disabled. What a struggle it was! The Car-Net brochure, the Car-Net Consent Form and the 2017 AllTrack owner’s manual all state that equipment must be removed from the car to completely disable Car-Net. But in fact that is untrue. Car-net can be disabled through software configuration. As noted by Frank Weith, General Manager of Connected Services for Volkswagen Group of America, a dealer can disable Car-Net cellular communications by putting it into so-called “Flight Mode” (BBC - Autos - How connected car tech is eroding personal privacy).

It sounds straightforward, but my dealer had no idea how to do it. When I asked VW customer service to instruct my dealer how to disable Car-Net, I was met with four months of stonewalling, deflection, dissembling, and outright lies. At every turn they denied that there is any way to disable Car-Net. To make a very long story short, they eventually relented and put my dealer in touch with someone at VW who helped them put it into “flight mode.” (If you encounter similar stonewalling, write to me at [email protected] and I’ll give you the phone number of the representative who finally helped me.)

VW of America required the dealer to charge me $500 for this 75-minute procedure. The price seems clearly punitive – set to discourage customers from choosing this option. I will leave it to you to speculate as to why VW so strenuously hides this option from customers, and then overcharges those who insist on pursuing it. Given their deeply entrenched resistance, I suspect that there’s money involved. But I believe that as the owner of the vehicle I should not have to pay $500 to protect myself from the risks posed above. I should be able to opt out at no cost.

Finally, if you don’t want to spend the $500 and are game to perform some major dashboard surgery, check out this post on how to disable Car-Net yourself: - Killing CarNet: how to find, bypass, and remove the CarNet box (what's inside it and how to repurpose the buttons too!)
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