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.
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.