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Senator Calls For Probe Of OnStar, OnStar Backs Down

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On: Fri, Sep 30, 2011 at 10:17AM | By: Chris Weiss

Senator Calls For Probe Of OnStar, OnStar Backs Down

Things were going so well for OnStar. Their platform has been getting richer and richer, it's now available in over-the-counter form, and it recently added a streamlined RemoteLink app. And then they go ahead and change the rules of their service, and all goes to hell.

Last week, OnStar announced changes that include controversial measures allowing it to sell customer data to third parties and continue monitoring users even after they cancel the service. In other words, OnStar can watch your every GPS move like Big Brother for the life of your vehicle, then sell the information to third party companies.

In response to the controversy that arose last week after OnStar sent word of the new terms and conditions to subscribers, spokesman Adam Denison tried (and failed, imo) to clear things up when speaking to Inside Line: "We're trying to let customers know we're not spying on your car. We're not tapping into the phone in your car and listening to you. We're just pulling data."

Denison might have more luck clearing things up if he was more specific than "pulling data." What data, for what purpose, and to whom will you be selling it to would make for a good start.

OnStar can track things like vehicle location, speed, and whether your seatbelt is on or not—things that you may not want to share with the world. OnStar says that any effort to share or sell the data would be anonymous.

Denison also went on to say that former customers that don't want to be tracked can call up and completely disconnect their vehicle, making it something that you have to go out of your way to do.

Well, not surprisingly, some are finding OnStar's attempt to clear things up insufficient. One such someone is Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Senator Schumer sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agency to look into OnStar for unfair trade practices. He also sent a letter to OnStar about his concerns relating to privacy issues.

Schumer was quite pointed in a statement: "By tracking drivers even after they've cancelled their service, OnStar is attempting one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory. I urge OnStar to abandon this policy and for FTC to immediately launch a full investigation to determine whether the company's actions constitute an unfair trade practice."

OnStar has been in PR crisis mode since last week, trying to discuss the changes with customers and repair its damaged image. The company now says that its Washington D.C. public policy team (read: lobbyist fat cats) will work with Senator Schumer on the issue.

Frankly, I don't see how the company gets away from this without amending the terms and conditions. If I were an OnStar customer, I'd be cancelling (and calling up to 'completely disconnect') well before the changes go into effect in December.

Update: After I wrote the original piece above, OnStar announced that it was changing the terms and conditions to fully disconnect vehicles upon cancellation of the service. I reckon GM probably didn't want to get on the bad side of Congress, what with what went down two years ago.


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