OnStar reverses course on tracking former customers

UPDATE (9/27): Vehicle tracking company OnStar said Tuesday it is reversing its proposed Terms and Conditions policy changes and will not keep a data connection to customers’ vehicles after the OnStar service is canceled.

“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” OnStar President Linda Marshall said. “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 more than 6 million customers.”

“We regret any confusion or concern we may have caused,” Marshall said.

The press release did not indicate a change in position on the sale of customer data.

ORIGINAL COLUMN (9/21): “Big Brother” is not only watching, but may soon be selling what he sees.

Thanks for the check Mr. Divorce Attorney. Yes, it seems your client's ex either works at the Cheetah or otherwise needed to be there every night last week.

Thanks for the check Mr. Divorce Attorney. Yes, it seems your client's ex either works at the Cheetah or otherwise needed to be there every night last week.

Wired magazine’s “Threat Level” blog says OnStar, a vehicle tracking service owned by General Motors, emailed subscribers this week alerting them to a change in policy that allows the company to sell customer data to anyone they choose, even after the service is canceled.

OnStar’s Vice President of Subscriber Services Joanne Finnorn said, in a press release, that the company has never sold any personally identifiable information and will be “very specific about with whom we share customers’ personal information.”

” … OnStar will maintain a two-way connection to [customer] vehicles unless [customers] ask us not to do so,” she wrote. “In the future, this connection may provide us with the capability to alert vehicle occupants about severe weather conditions such as tornado warnings or mandatory evacuations. Another benefit for keeping this connection ‘open’ could be to provide vehicle owners with any updated warranty data or recall issues.”

“Of course, if the customer requests us to turn off the two-way connection, we will do as we have always done, and that is honor customers’ requests,” said Finnorn.

The privacy changes takes place Dec. 1.

Forensic scientist and bass guitar player Jonathan Zdziarski actually took the time to read the new Terms & Conditions and canceled his OnStar account.

On his blog, he went with a low-key headline: “OnStar Begins Spying On Customers’ GPS Location For Profit.”

He writes “personal GPS location information, speed, safety belt usage, and other information can be sold to third parties, including law enforcement. To add insult to a slap in the face, the company insists they will continue collecting and selling this personal information even after you cancel your service, unless you specifically shut down the data connection to the vehicle after canceling.”

Zdziarski paints a troubling, and perhaps far-fetched, picture.

“Go to Weight Watchers every week? Expect an increase in the amount of weight loss advertising phone calls. Go to the bar frequently? Anticipate a number of sleazy liquor ads to show up in your mailbox. Sneak out to Victoria Secret for something special for your lover? You might soon be inundated with adult advertising in your mailbox.”

Wired climbs aboard the paranoia train by writing: “One could also imagine an eager police chief acquiring the data to issue speeding tickets en masse.”

I don’t think any of those scenarios are likely, but the paranoid may want to go ahead and locate the fuse that powers their OnStar device right now.

62 comments Add your comment

JMM

September 21st, 2011
12:51 pm

That dude is way too paranoid. He needs to cut back on the weed.

How the heck does OnStar know if you go to Weight Watchers or Victoria’s Secret? Unless you drive your car into a building that is clearly a weight watchers place, or drive your car into a mall and then into the Victoria’s Secret, it just knows you’re in a parking lot.

He should stick to playing bass, because science seems to be beyond his ability.

Shemeka

September 21st, 2011
2:17 pm

Well who didn’t see THIS coming? It’s only the beginning. As technology like OnStar becomes more prevalent someone(s) will be tracking your movement 24/7.

If I had OnStar (I don’t), knowing that my info is about to go up for sale, I would have it deactivated in my vehicle.

Will

September 21st, 2011
3:27 pm

JMM – you can already purchase databases with the exact latitude/longitude of ever store in the country (or at least most major ones). Correlating this with a user’s location and then providing their mailing address to a marketing company is laughably simple.

That’s just the least sinister possibility. There are plenty more.

Ryan for OnStar

September 21st, 2011
5:51 pm

We value our customers’ privacy and security and have never sold any personally identifiable information to any third party. To be clear and transparent regarding our business practices we have put together the video below.

http://bit.ly/onstarTandC

[...] Privacy Statement (Effective as of Dec. 2011) (PDF) [OnStar.com]OnStar to sell customer location and other data [Atlanta Journal Constitution]OnStar Set to Start Tracking, Sharing More Data From Cars [Wall [...]

[...] Privacy Statement (Effective as of Dec. 2011) (PDF) [OnStar.com]OnStar to sell customer location and other data [Atlanta Journal Constitution]OnStar Set to Start Tracking, Sharing More Data From Cars [Wall [...]

[...] Privacy Statement (Effective as of Dec. 2011) (PDF) [OnStar.com]OnStar to sell customer location and other data [Atlanta Journal Constitution]OnStar Set to Start Tracking, Sharing More Data From Cars [Wall [...]

Alek

September 22nd, 2011
8:21 am

THIS is exactly why I will NEVER buy a GM product!

JMM

September 22nd, 2011
8:26 am

@Will. I understand that’s possible. But the OnStar doesn’t know where I walk to when I get out of the car. There are almost no free-standing businesses. Especially something like weight watchers or Victoria’s Secret. It’s either in a mall or a strip mall or an office park. How would OnStar know where I walk to from the parking lot? It can’t.
But I appreciate the point you’re making. If it’s a free-standing place, sure, it’d know that. But the examples that paranoid bass-player guy gave simply aren’t going to exist as free-standing elements.

Johio

September 22nd, 2011
8:30 am

I bet insurance companies would love to get their hands on this data.

PJ

September 22nd, 2011
8:37 am

Is this how GM is finding its way back to profitability? Just remember, folks, it’s our tax dollars that kept the company afloat. This is how they thank us.

JimH

September 22nd, 2011
8:37 am

I don’t think the point is whether On-Star will know exactly what stores you go to or not. The point in my opinion is that the GM service is going to sell information about you and more importantly will do so even if you cancel unless you stop the device from transmitting. You didn’t put the device in the car, why should you have to stop it from transmitting to maintain your privacy.

Ghost

September 22nd, 2011
8:40 am

His premise is not a far fetched as some would believe. That is also why I only turn on GPS tracking in my mobile phone when I need navigation. Yes, they can track the cell towers I use to get a general area, but I’ll never give up my exact location to GPS tracking!

Look out for NFC (near field communication) too. I don’t trust that it’ll be as secure as the phone companies promise.

better than iPhone

September 22nd, 2011
8:42 am

It’s annoying, but all your car knows is where you’re parked. Your phone knows where you went once you parked – not only if you went Victoria’s Secret, but how long you were there, and then how long you spent in the Apple store afterwards. So, if one is going to be harassed by marketing, I’d worry more about your phone than your car. There are a lot of privacy issues here, but I’m a lot more comfortable with my phone knowing I am at the airport than the TSA groping my breasts in the name of Security Theater.

All I'm Saying Is....

September 22nd, 2011
8:45 am

“Go to Weight Watchers every week? Expect an increase in the amount of weight loss advertising phone calls. Go to the bar frequently? Anticipate a number of sleazy liquor ads to show up in your mailbox. Sneak out to Victoria Secret for something special for your lover? You might soon be inundated with adult advertising in your mailbox.” Wired climbs aboard the paranoia train by writing: “One could also imagine an eager police chief acquiring the data to issue speeding tickets en masse.” I don’t think any of those scenarios are likely, but the paranoid may want to go ahead and locate the fuse that powers their OnStar device right now.

Why wouldn’t any of these scenarios happen? If you are a for profit company (like GM) and you have data of value (OnStar) which could help other for profit companies more efficiently spend their limited promotional dollars, then of course these types of scenarios (and many, many more) are likely. THIS IS THE ENTIRE PREMISE OF SEARCH ADVERTISING WHICH GOOGLE MAKES OODLES OF MONEY OFF OF. Please don’t be naive.

Yep

September 22nd, 2011
8:53 am

Has anyone ever heard of database marketing? There is a plethora of PUBLICLY available information that is used to identify and market to precise target audiences. This has been going on for years. Combine the information that GM is about to provide with your name, address, HH income, etc., and you have a very powerful marketing tool that will be used to further segment the marketplace. It is a little bit too precise in my opinion. This tracking closes the loop for many marketers and will now allow them to track much more of your actual behavior by applying a number of logarithms to more closely predict your purchase habits, driving patterns, and most likely even your actual behavior. This data will very valuable to any number of companies or government agencies. Beware. Think about what the insurance agencies (Progressive)are trying to do right now with putting a GPS locator in your car to track your driving habits and how the Federal government is talking about taxing drivers PER mile of usage instead of through gas taxes. Something like this closes the loop. I am glad I do not drive a GM auto.

Chess

September 22nd, 2011
9:15 am

All of you crying would use that collected data to make your company more margin points in a fast NY minute.

Joe Mama

September 22nd, 2011
9:27 am

Chess — “All of you crying would use that collected data to make your company more margin points in a fast NY minute.”

I wouldn’t.

Please don’t presume that everyone has a similarly low level of ethical backbone.

JAWJA

September 22nd, 2011
9:30 am

It is a total violation of privacy, in my opinion for any company to sell their customers info. And, that goes for the county auto tag lists. I am already inundated w/ advertising where the sender is paying a fraction of the cost I pay to send mail. All this sizz needs to stop!! When I turned 50, I started receiving mail from AARP; I wrote deceased on it and returned to mailbox. It took them years to find me on another list.

BuzzG

September 22nd, 2011
9:30 am

GM was bailed out by the US taxpayer a couple of years ago and this is the thanks we get. The US Fed government is still the largest stockholder of GM and has considerable clout. Obama could get this stopped with a single phone call, but won’t. I have driven mostly GM cars for 40 years but this is the last straw.

I love my new Ford F150. Great ride and the best thing is it won’t tattle to Obama where I have been.

Brett

September 22nd, 2011
9:32 am

According to Clark Howard, GPS companies were already doing this. They were selling data to local law enforcement agencies. The agencies were using this data to set up speed traps. No joke.

Henry Ford

September 22nd, 2011
9:37 am

That’s exactly why I don’t own a GM (Government Motors) vehicle!

PJ

September 22nd, 2011
9:42 am

For GM to say the information will not be personally identifiable is ludicrous. If it’s not identifiable down to a fairly detailed level, it’s not valuable. No one needs OnStar to tell them how many people went to Weight Watchers or Victoria’s Secret. They know that. They need OnStar to tell them WHO went.

If you’re outraged about this, and you’re a US taxpayer, exercise your power as a GM stockholder. Call your Representative. Write the President. Email GM. Make your voice heard.

NoGMforMe

September 22nd, 2011
9:45 am

I wouldn’t be inclined to buy GM as I don’t trust GM, Ford, Chrysler, but I would NEVER have any car with On-star. Especially after GM has decided to sell data they technically shouldn’t own.

dont trust them

September 22nd, 2011
9:51 am

Shocking. Everyone is sold a bill of goods that this is a great safety feature when it is just anothe way our freedoms were taken.

jeff w

September 22nd, 2011
9:52 am

I don’t see how anyone could be surprised at this, since GM is now “Gov’t Motors”.
After all, this is the same gov’t that set up web sites and call in numbers to anonymously report anyone saying “untruths” about our Fuher, er I mean our president Obama.

For example, the onstar data could alert the IRS to take a look at anyone visiting a Tea Party rally, forth of July parade, or any other such subversive activity…

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
9:58 am

Gooda smells

Gooda

September 22nd, 2011
9:58 am

henners you fatty

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
9:59 am

Gooda smells of BO

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
10:00 am

Gooda

September 22nd, 2011
10:00 am

henry your crap in goal

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
10:01 am

If i were taller GOoda, I’d be a Blue Square prem keeper easy.

YOU STINK OF SMELL

Gooda

September 22nd, 2011
10:01 am

hello steve ‘takes a’ knapp ;)

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
10:02 am

Gooda really does smell

Gooda

September 22nd, 2011
10:02 am

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
10:04 am

Look at Scott, he’s a big lad

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
10:04 am

DOn’t use that kinda language towards me, BOY

Gooda

September 22nd, 2011
10:05 am

DONT AWSNSER ME BACK GIRL!

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
10:06 am

Shut up slag

Gooda

September 22nd, 2011
10:06 am

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
10:07 am

Brad loves Scott

Gooda

September 22nd, 2011
10:08 am

Henners

September 22nd, 2011
10:08 am

Gooda dan’kno
Steve dan’kno
Brad dan’kno
Scott dan’kno

Tom Chapman

September 22nd, 2011
10:09 am

I LOVE SCOTT and LUNA

Steve Knapp

September 22nd, 2011
10:10 am

I’m tired, I fancy a KNAPP

Josh Moore

September 22nd, 2011
10:12 am

I have one eyebrow

Gooda

September 22nd, 2011
10:12 am

Roekest

September 22nd, 2011
10:30 am

Those far-fetched scenarios might not be so far fetched. Try this:

Clear out all of your computer’s cookies, website data, etc. Then go to a favorite site you know to have a good amount of ad space; take note of the ads. Spend a good 30 minutes zipping from random site to random site. Go back to that first page and see if the ad-content has changed to reflect the sites you just spent 30 minutes visiting. Big Brother is a hell of a mother…

'Off'Star Me Dude

September 22nd, 2011
10:32 am

Ironic – Tax payers bail out GM and now a GM company starts spying on citizens. Big Brother isn’t too far fetched. Just remember, though, that companies like Google are already spying on you via smartphones and internet browsers. Just recently read in google’s own documentation how ‘clear your browser data’ only clears the lists – does not clear ANY data. Gotta love spies in any form.

GPS is bad!

September 22nd, 2011
10:43 am

I saw a show on TV (Discover channel?) about grocery stores tracking cell phone signals to identify and track your path through the store: route you take, departments you visit, amount of time spent in front of ad displays, (including the SI bathing suit issue display), and they change the location of items based on traffic patterns. Scary part? They can identify return customers based on that cellphone signal. Who knows what cell phone companies are doing with it!