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GM OnStar cars will upload all data unless owners opt out

It's coming: Your car will rat you out to insurers

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Cars fitted with OnStar's technology will be tracked even if the owners don't sign up to the service, in a change to the company's policy that will kick in come December.

OnStar is a service offered by General Motors USA, which inserts a mobile phone, along with telemetry tracking kit, into cars sold by the company. Owners are then offered the option to sign up to the navigation and automatic crash reporting, but in a policy change the company will start collecting data from drivers even if they haven't signed up for the service.

In the notice being sent out to subscribers, and picked up by Wired, OnStar explains that from December this year it will start collecting information about everything from oil levels to mileage, and details of any accident in which the vehicle is involved – including direction of impact, seatbelt use and the location/speed of the vehicle at the time of the accident.

That is the critical part, to the insurance companies at least. Several US insurance claims have already been invalidated by cars which grassed on their owners, who proved to be travelling faster than they had admitted, and OnStar will hand over the data to the police when required to, and anyone else they deem necessary for "the safety of you or others".

Until now, that data was only available where owners had been signed up to the service, which includes satellite navigation, but come December anyone whose car is fitted with the technology, and hasn't explicitly opted out (by phoning OnStar), will be subject to monitoring by the company.

Earlier this month the European Commission formally adopted eCall, which requires all new cars sold within the EU to be fitted with automatic tracking, and an embedded cellular phone, by 2015. eCall will call up the emergency services in the event of a crash, but it will also put a mobile phone into every car in Europe, which opens up a host of options.

Cars are already getting over-the-air software modifications. Red Bend, specialists in remote software updating, send out software patches to various models over the GSM network; the company is looking forward to being able to reach out to every car to ensure they're running the latest and greatest OS and applications.

In its statement (PDF, 10 pages but quite readable), OnStar explains it will also be collecting anonymous data for traffic and usage analysis, which is probably more valuable to General Motors than details about individuals. The same thing will no doubt apply to eCall-equipped cars when they come on sale.

Few people will bother opting out of such a service, which means that those who do will simply attract attention to themselves. All this is for your own safety and convenience, of course, but if you want to travel anonymously after 2015 then best get yourself an (eCall-exempted) motorcycle and read the small print carefully. ®

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