Monday, September 26, 2011

New OnStar Policy Raises User Concerns About Privacy

Article first published as "New OnStar Policy Raises User Concerns About Privacy" on Technorati.

By Cesar Ortiz
Last week, General Motors supported OnStar system subscribers began receiving an e-mail with a change in their Terms of Service Agreement. The changes are mainly related to cancellations and to the use of the data collected by the device. The OnStar system collects, stores and sends vehicle and location data to the provider command center. Some of the services are Automatic Crash Response, Emergency Services, Turn-by-turn Navigation, e-Nav, Stolen Vehicle Tracking and Roadside Assistance. The system is available on GM and Non GM vehicles.
Two changes in the policy are raising privacy concerns:

(1) If a you cancel the service and leave the unit installed in the car, OnStar will stop monitoring the vehicle for the featured charged services but will still be receiving your location tracking and vehicle technical data using the OnStar two way cellular device built- in the unit. Until now, when OnStar service stopped, so did the vehicle’s two-way communications system. As of Dec. 1, however, that will not be the case. Vehicles of users who no longer subscribe will still be sending data via the system’s still-active two-way cellular link. In other words, you will not receive any benefits but will still be sending your vehicle location tracking and technical data to OnStar. The good news is that if you cancel and request that your two-way link be shut down, OnStar will comply. As a default however, users who do not call requesting the two-way cellular shutdown will keep on sending user data.

(2) Under the new terms, OnStar reserves the right to share the information it collects with other companies and organizations. Vijay Iyer, an OnStar spokesman, said in a telephone interview with the New York Times that “OnStar maintains the cellular connection after the subscription is canceled, as a practice intended to collect data that could be useful to municipalities, for example, trying to improve traffic flow or to first responders attempting to determine the severity of a crash before arriving at the scene”. Does this last statement means that OnStar will keep providing emergency services even when a user cancels the paid monitoring service? If it does not, there is no reason to leave the cellular two-way unit active when canceling.

The GPS-Two Way cellular communications type of technology in vehicles may raise some concerns about user privacy but the safety advantages and life savings features that comes with a paid subscription are worth the risk, this happens all the time with cellular phones, laptops, tablets and with vehicle navigation systems. OnStar must be very careful how they handle this issue of the changes in policy and to whom and how they provide the acquired data or they may be adding fuel to the user privacy concerns fire.


On September 27, 2011, I received an e-mail from OnStar Vice President, Public Affairs. The e-mail is regarding an original article published by me as "New OnStar Policy Raises User Concerns About Privacy" on Technorati.

Immediately after receiving the e-mail, I contacted Technorati and published a second article titled "OnStar Reverses Decision to Change Terms and Conditions" We think the decision announced by Mr. Iye in the e-mail is a savvy move. An hour after I received the e-mail, the OnStar reversal was a major media event world wide. 

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 3:16 pm
From : (e-mail) Vijay Iyer│OnStar Communications
Vice President Public Affairs & Corporate Communications
To : (e-mail) Cesar Ortiz, Technorati
e-mail title: OnStar Reverses Decision to Change Terms and Conditions

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