New trouble for Volkswagen in North America: Due to a breakdown at a business partner, the data of more than 3.3 million people was unsecured and accessible on the Internet for over a year. According to what we know so far, VW is assuming that customers and prospective buyers of the Audi subsidiary will be affected, a company spokesman said on Friday. Previously, the US blog TechCrunch reported on the data leak and published a letter to customers and a corresponding letter from a lawyer.
U.S. social security and bank account numbers
According to VW, the majority of the data is only contact information. This part of the leak includes names, e-mail addresses, telephone and sometimes vehicle numbers of around 3.1 million Audi customers in the USA and 163,000 in Canada as well as 3,300 VW customers in the US. However, more confidential data from around 90,000 Audi customers was also unprotected. 95 percent of these cases are about driver’s license numbers, but a small proportion also concern highly sensitive information such as US social security and bank account numbers.
An international law firm said in letters to attorneys general in the United States on June 10 on behalf of Volkswagen and Audi that an unauthorized third party had obtained limited access to customer data. VW turned on the judicial authorities and hired external data analysis and cybersecurity experts. The leaked information was therefore collected between 2014 and 2019 by a business partner for sales and marketing purposes.
A proactive measure
According to the VW spokesman, the attorney’s letters to the prosecutors are merely a formal step that companies in the US are obliged to take in the event of such customer data leaks. It is a proactive measure that does not give any indication of investigations by the judicial authorities. Volkswagen initially did not provide any information on who the business partner was who had the data breach, and did not want to comment on possible consequences for the company when asked.
VW had a difficult position in North America for years anyway because of the “Dieselgate” scandal uncovered by US environmental authorities in September 2015. The massive manipulation of exhaust gas measurements had severely damaged the company’s image and caused sales figures in the USA to collapse at times. VW went to great lengths to polish up its reputation and win back the trust of US customers. Most recently, business was running smoothly again, with VW’s US sales increasing by 21 percent in the first quarter.