Ford Motor Company uses its infotainment system to secretly download and store drivers’ private text conversations and then turns them over to law enforcement and the private company Berla, a new class-action lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit was filed in Washington on Sept. 10 by lead plaintiffs Mark Jones and Michael McKee, who allege the company violated the Washington Privacy Act. The act, they say in the suit, forbids any entity in the state of Washington from intercepting or pre-recording any private communication without first obtaining the consent of all the participants in the communication.
But Ford, they allege, has been doing so illegally through software and hardware made by Berla Corporation. Berla then supplies those conversations to law enforcement, military, civil and regulatory agencies, and select private industry organizations, the lawsuit alleges. Berla does not give private citizens any means to access or delete their own conversations.
“On information and belief, vehicle infotainment systems in Ford vehicles automatically download a copy of every text message stored on any phone connected to the system and store that copy in computer memory on the vehicle in such a manner that the vehicle owner cannot access it,” the lawsuit reads.
Jones owns a 2021 Ford vehicle with an infotainment system he has used repeatedly. He says in the claim that he has never consented to Ford downloading and storing his text messages, and similarly did not consent to third parties such as Berla or law enforcement having access to copies of such text messages made by his Ford vehicle’s infotainment system.
McKee sent messages to Jones and his messages have also been stored without his consent, the lawsuit states.
Ford also Accused of Violating Privacy by Recording Conversations and Illegally Downloading Phone Data in Rental Cars
The same issue is true even with rental cars, the lawsuit says, with Ben LeMere, the CEO and founder of Berla, telling reporters the company has seen a number of messages stored in rental cars that were requesting drugs and sex. LeMere told the reporters that as soon as a phone is plugged into a USB power port, the hardware and software will “start sucking all your data down into the car.”
Jones argues Ford has violated their customer’s privacy and they are suing on behalf of all Washington Ford owners for violations of the Washington Privacy Act. He seeks certification of the Class, injunctive relief, declaratory relief, damages, legal fees and costs, and a jury trial.
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Jones and McKee are represented by Joel B. Ard of Ard Law Group PLLC.
The Ford Illegal Recording Class Action Lawsuit is Jones, et al., v. Ford Motor Company, Case No. 3:21-cv-05666 in the U.S. State of Washington Thurston County Superior Court.