Mercedes-Benz in the United Kingdom has admitted to using a device installed by dealerships to track down cars where the customer has defaulted on their payments, and then share this information with repossession companies.
The device is different to the anti-theft tracking devices that Mercedes offers to customers, and has been installed on both new and used cars that were financed.
Mercedes in a statement made on Tuesday to The Sun said information about the device, referred to as “location sensors,” is mentioned in bold print just above the section where the customer needs to sign on the car's finance contract. The automaker also said in its statement that the devices aren't permanently tracking cars and instead used only in rare circumstances, such as in the case of a person defaulting on their payments.
“It is only activated in exceptional circumstances where the customer has breached their finance agreement and repeatedly failed to reply to requests to contact us,” the statement said.
It seems Mercedes is the only automaker carrying out this practice. When contacted by The Sun, rival automakers including BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Volkswagen all said they aren't tracking cars.
Tracking a car without its driver’s knowledge is illegal under current EU data protection laws. However, the EU in 2018 also mandated that new cars need to be fitted with a device called eCall, which is designed to provide first responders with vehicle information, including location, but is only trigged in the case of an emergency.