ONstar may be under investigation soon:
Senator charges GM's OnStar invades privacy
General Motors' OnStar in-car communications system violates privacy, a U.S. senator is charging.
An OnStar engineer demonstrates OnStar MyLink for mobile phone applications . Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac mobile apps powered by OnStar will allow owners to remotely activate all functions available on a traditional key fob,
CAPTIONBy Steve Fecht, Steve Fecht for OnStarOnStar, used by 6 million Americans, maintains its two-way connection with a customer even after the service is discontinued, while reserving the right to sell data from that connection, the Associated Press reports.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, says that's a blatant invasion of privacy and is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.
But OnStar says former customers can stop the two-way transmission, and no driving data of customers has been shared or sold.
"OnStar is attempting one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory,"
said Schumer, a Democrat.
But the General Motors OnStar service says customers are thoroughly informed of the new practice. If a customer says he or she doesn't want to have data collected after service is ended, OnStar disconnects the tracking.
And although OnStar reserves the right to share or sell data on customers' speed, location, use of seat belts and other practices, a spokesman says it hasn't done so and doesn't plan to.
"We apologize for creating any confusion about our terms and conditions," said Joanne Finnor, vice president of subscriber services. "We want to make sure we are as clear with our customers as possible, but it's apparent that we have failed to do this. ... We will continue to be open to their suggestions and concerns."
A week ago, OnStar changed its policy and began continuing the connection for ex-customers unless they asked for it to be discontinued:
Finnor noted keeping the two-communication active for former customers could someday allow for emergency messages to be sent even to ex-customers about severe weather or evacuations. The open line could also allow OnStar to alert drivers about warranty information or recalls, she said.
Schumer said he isn't persuaded. He said customers shouldn't have to "opt out"
of the tracking after they end service. He accuses OnStar of actively deceiving customers.
Schumer is announcing the effort today by releasing a letter to the Federal Trade Commission seeking an investigation.
OnStar charges about $199 a year for basic service and $299 a year for service that includes navigation aid.
Franken battles OnStar
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., told OnStar that it should not track the location of its customers, and sell information about them.
Franken, making a name for himself battling big companies, wrote a letter to the company after it recently said it may track vehicles with the OnStar service via its global positioning system equipment, even after customers cancel the service.
“OnStar’s actions appear to violate basic principles of privacy and fairness for OnStar’s approximately six million customers -- especially for those customers who have already ended their relationships with your company...” said a letter written by Franken and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. “We believe that OnStar’s actions underscore the urgent need for prompt congressional action to enact privacy laws that protect private, sensitive information like location. In the meantime, we believe that it is the responsibility of corporate citizens like OnStar to take every step possible to safeguard the privacy of their customers.”
OnStar, mostly on General Motors vehicles, provides navigation and communications services. One of its selling points is the technology can notify emergency services personnel if a vehicle has been in an accident, and provide them with the exact location. However, OnStar’s location service remains active even if the vehicle owner does not pay for the service.
One of the first experts to draw attention to the policy changes was Jonathan Zdziarski, senior forensic scientist at Via Forensics, who promptly canceled his OnStar subscription and blasted the new terms and conditions. He noted on his blog that the updates were “very unsettling” and “too shady.”
Making matters worse, claims that OnStar would normally make the GPS data anonymous before selling it are hard to swallow. “It’s impossible,” Zdziarski said. “If your vehicle is consistently parked at your home, driving down your driveway, or taking a left or right turn onto your street every single day, its pretty obvious that this is where you live!”
The potential for abuse is huge, he noted. OnStar could, for example, provide information on speeders or seat-belt usage to the police. Or insurance companies could use the data to monitor their customers and raise their rates.
“Shame on you, OnStar, for even giving yourselves the right to do this,” wrote Zdziarski. “Even more insulting, it was difficult to ensure the data connection was shut down after canceling,” he noted, saying the company repeatedly ignored his request to shut down the connection.
OnStar and other “large abusive data warehousing companies desperately need to be investigated,” he concluded. “When will our congress pass legislation that stops the American people’s privacy from being raped by large data warehousing interests?”