Two Serious Problems With GPS-Aided Car Repossession

A recent Computerworld blog post shows how tone deaf we can be about the implications of new technology. A group of car dealers in Oregon apparently attached GPS devices to cars sold to customers with poor credit so as to be able to track them down more easily in the event of repossession.

I agree with the author, a senior editor for Computerworld, that there are (horrendous) privacy problems with tracking customers without notice. But this practice also relates to an emerging phenomenon wherein sold property remains oddly connected to the seller as though it were merely leased. Whereas once we purchased an album and did with it as we please, today we need to register (up to five) devices in order to play our songs. Whereas once we purchased software outright, now we depend on periodic vendor updates in order to retain basic functionality. (See John's discussion of "software as service" in The Future of the Internet and How To Stop It.)

Notice that although the blogger faults certain dealers for failing to inform customers of the device, no critique is offered of the notion that the dealers should retain a “location” interest in the vehicle after it has been lawfully sold to the consumer. Rather, the author says of this practice that it “sounds like a reasonable thing for the car dealers to do,” and later that dealers may have a “very good business rationale” for the practice. I disagree with this position. Once you sell me a car, it's mine, until the law provides otherwise.

(Thanks to Beth Givens for passing along the story and to Robert Kraft for the image.)


I sell such devices to such car dealers. These subprime, buy-here-pay-here dealers are the only hope for many people with bad credit. When the dealer reaches into his own pocket to finance a car, GPS is the only way to hedge his bet. Until the customer makes that last payment and takes title, the dealer has every right to know where his assett is. Losing 1 or 2 cars a month can wipe these small guys out! I personaly have not seen any cases of abuse; I think they have better things to do. Brett Wells

I'm guessing that the car dealer actually retains the title in this case and technically the car isn't really the purchaser's until it's fully paid for.
That being said, keeping your lender up to date with your address is different than having a GPS attached to your car. Without agreement to the contrary, I think you're right, that there isn't a location interest in the vehicle.

I recently purchased a vehicle long story short I told them I was coming in that weekend to pay it off they said fine come on in I went there go sit with receptionist to complete the sale a guy next to her got up abruptly goes to parking lot comes back in says "you bought the F250 right?"I confirmed I did he replys where did you park? I asked him if he was looking for my Ford specifically because I did not drive it they were acting very weird I had no clue as to their problem but could see something was wrong they spoke to each other in Turkish then finally after securing final payment they said that there is a GPS on my truck and they said I needed to bring the truck back so they can remove it I said that driving 60 miles back up there wasn't something I wanted to do asked if it was complicated to remove they said it was I asked if it was something that my mechanic could remove they said no I asked if it was something that there mechanic could come to my house and remove they said no had to be done in their garage I asked my mechanic if any of that was true he said no it is not complicated at all their mechanic could do it with necessary items in a portable tool box I called them back they said that the real problem is their mechanic is a mexican and cannot drive to my house they told me they could not release the lien on title until they got device back I told them I had contacted title agency and I knew better was no different than an item left in glove box by old owner the device is technically mine now I'm stuck with device torn on what to do I could easily afford to have it removed but I feel I have been wronged and they should have to pay for it to be removed being that it is not an expense that I had anticipated when purchasing the vehicle I feel violated Now they'll find those hitchhikers for sure LOL What do you think??

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