After being torn apart by the media, customers, lawmakers, and being described by a Senator as “one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory” OnStar has decided to reverse its new customer tracking policy. The new policy, announced last week to customers via email, gave OnStar permission to continue to gather speed, location and related customer data from all users – even ones that had cancelled services – and then sell the information to third parties.
The OnStar tracking system 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 tracking system’s principal selling point, and numerous lives have been saved by the car alerting emergency services that a crash has occurred.
Even if an OnStar user cancelled services, the secondary connection would remain active and the company could continue to gather and sell the user’s tracking data – unless the customer specifically contacted OnStar for an opt-out request.
Democratic senator, Chris Coons of Delaware, said, “As location-based mobile technology becomes a larger part of consumers’ lives, it’s important that we’re vigilant about balancing convenience with privacy.”
OnStar’s 6 million current subscribers should be aware – it still maintains the right to track active 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. According to the company’s terms of service, subsection 33 (titled “YOUR PRIVACY”):
“The information we may get from your Car includes things such as: data about its operation; data about your use of the OnStar Services; the location of your Car; data about accidents involving your Car, including safety belt usage; and information about your use of the Car and its features. We may also approximate the speed of your Car based on GPS data to support a limited number of OnStarServices, such as Stolen Vehicle Assistance services, as further described in our Privacy Statement. We may collect information from your Car on a periodic or regular basis.”
About the OnStar Tracking System
OnStar is the largest brand in the fast-growing field of telematics and is a subsidiary of General Motors (GM).