OnStar backs down over GPS tracking of ex-customers
Slams brakes after consumer revolt
OnStar has backed down from a proposed change in its terms and conditions that would have seen the vehicle info system collecting car monitoring data on former customers.
The OnStar system, operated as part of General Motors, embeds a mobile phone and GPS in customer’s cars and relays a constant stream of data back to the company recording basic speed and location, whether the driver is wearing a seat belt, and tire pressure, as well as reporting accidents. This latter function is the system’s principal selling point, and numerous lives have been saved by the car alerting emergency services that a crash has occurred.
But last week OnStar decided to change its terms and conditions, so that if a customer cancelled the service it would still collect the data. To make matters worse it retained the right to sell it to any third party - unless it received a specific opt-out request. Such information would be a valuable commodity for advertisers, but under the new terms OnStar could conceivably have sold the data to law enforcement looking to issue tickets or insurance investigators examining crash claims.
The move provoked something of a storm among the public, and prompted Democratic senators Al Franken of Minnesota, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Charles Schumer of New York to contact the company about its policy, the latter calling it “one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory” and suggesting a Federal Trade Commission investigation. Now, barely a week later, OnStar has abandoned the proposed changes.
“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” OnStar president Linda Marshall said in a statement. “This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers’ hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our customers.”
While the company has backed down on its initial proposal, the move has also sparked an investigation by some customers into what OnStar can do with their private data under the current terms and conditions.
“I’m glad to see OnStar responding to its customers, however simply amending their terms and conditions to stop monitoring a vehicle after the user cancels is not enough to satisfy the level of privacy OnStar customers received prior to these updates,” writes forensic scientist, customer, and part-time hacker Jonathan Zdziarski.
“To win back the respect of the many customers who must have canceled over the new terms, OnStar will need to make a full 180 and agree not to collect customer GPS information “for any purpose, at any time”, but only when the customer would expect it to be collected, as the old contract enforced.” ®
I consider On-Star an absolute deal breaker on any new vehicle. I will insist upon the module being physically removed, and the hole where it used to be shown to me. Not "disabled via software", not "we pulled the fuse" - totally gone.
The scary thing is that as the vehicle electronics become more tightly integrated, the day will come when that is not an option: there will be no "OnStar" module per se, but rather one module that controls radio, navigation, climate control, and dashboard, and that removing it will cause the engine control unit and transmission control unit to freeze.
The title is optional, and must contain whitespace...or not
“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” OnStar president Linda Marshall said in a statement.
Linda, my dear, let me guess...You (perhaps not you personally, but the imperial "you") were seduced by the siren song of customer-as-product. That seems to be going around. But really, did none of your fresh-faced, newly-minted, 20-something marketing geniuses (an oxymoron if ever there was one) ever considered doing something anachronistically referred to as "market research"?
I know...thinking is so hard these days...
Excuse me for thinking this is illegal. These are former clients which you no longer have a relationship with . They are no longer using your service so why is it legal for you to even interact with their onstar unit. I would think that would constitute unauthorized access to a computer device .