OnStar's subscription service will continue to track private data, even after the subscription is canceled. Image: Flickr / cletch / CC-BY-SA

The General Motors service OnStar has been popular since it was introduced. A change to the privacy policy of OnStar prompted the FTC to begin investigating the service, which has led to a minor change.

Change to OnStar Terms

GM’s OnStar service embeds both a mobile phone system and GPS transmitter into enabled vehicles. The data from the GPS is sent to the company, along with information from the vehicle’s computer. The information is then used to identify and report accidents and vehicular malfunctions. In mid-September, OnStar announced a change to the terms and conditions of the OnStar service that would allow the company to collect, record, archive and sell the tracking information, even if OnStar service has been canceled.

Senators question privacy protection

Senator Schumer, upon hearing that OnStar would continue to record the private information of subscribers, even after cancellation, prompted the FTC to look into the practice.

“By tracking drivers even after they’ve canceled their service, OnStar is attempting one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory,” said Schumer. “I urge OnStar to abandon this policy and for FTC to immediately launch a full investigation to determine whether the company’s actions constitute an unfair trade practice.”

OnStar backs out – slightly

After the uproar from both the Senate and the FTC, OnStar made a change to the privacy policy for its subscription service. Now, customers are allowed to opt out of this tracking with a written request. However, speed and location data must have a second, separate opt-out request. Finally, OnStar’s privacy policy still outlines that the company can make data anonymous, record it and sell the data to whatever third party the company decides. In short, anyone who wishes to use OnStar or purchases a car with OnStar needs to do so with the understanding that their location, speed and travel information could be recorded and sold without their consent.


The Register: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/28/onstar_gps_tracking_former_customers/
Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20110926/AUTO01/109260347/1148/OnStar-privacy-in-question
Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-09-28/gm-s-facebook-moment-brings-u-turn-on-onstar-settings-cars.html

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