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Entries in OnStar (2)

Wednesday
Sep282011

OnStar Reverses Policy, Won’t Track Non-Subscribers

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images(DETROIT) -- OnStar, the service that connects to people’s cars by cell signal and can tell where they are if they have an accident, has now promised not to keep tracking people even if they cancel their subscriptions.

“We listened,” said OnStar’s president, Linda Marshall. “We hope to maintain the trust of our more than six million customers.”

OnStar stepped on a public relations landmine earlier this month by announcing some changes to its privacy policy. In a routine email to customers, it said it reserved the right to provide its traffic data to law enforcement, credit card processors and marketers. And it said that unless people asked, OnStar would keep tracking people’s cars even if they canceled the service.

Several senators piled on, expressing “serious concern” for people’s privacy; Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

OnStar said it wasn’t actually selling or sharing its data and had no plans to do so, but that wasn’t good enough. It has now revised the policy, promising that if people cancel their OnStar subscriptions, the cellular connection with their cars will automatically be disconnected.

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

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Sep262011

OnStar Says GM May Track Your Car, Even if You Cancel Service

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images(DETROIT) -- OnStar, the service started by General Motors to support drivers through a cellphone system in their cars, has now told customers it may collect information on their movements and driving habits even if they no longer subscribe to the service. And the company, which took billions in taxpayer-funded government bailout money, also says it could share that information with law enforcement agencies or sell it to other companies.

The notice went out quietly; the response has been anything but.

OnStar installs cellular systems in vehicles which, if you pay for a service plan (starting at $18.95 a month), can give you driving directions, open the car doors if you lock yourself out, even track your car and alert local police if you are in an accident and your airbags inflate.

The company sent users a routine email updating its terms of service, effective as of December 2011.

Buried in some legal language was this line: "Unless the Data Connection in your Vehicle is deactivated, information about your Vehicle may continue to be collected even if you do not have a Plan."

A few lines later, the company wrote: "We may...share the information we collect with law enforcement or other public safety officials, credit card processors and/or third parties we contract with who conduct joint marketing initiatives with OnStar."

In other words, OnStar was reserving the right to collect and share information on your driving habits -- even if you decided the service was a gimmick and ended your subscription.

Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota and Christopher Coons of Delaware, both Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to express their "serious concern" with the changes.

"OnStar's assurances that it will protect its customers by 'anonymizing' precise GPS records of their location are undermined by a broad body of research showing that it is extraordinarily difficult to successfully anonymize highly personal data like location," they said.

OnStar went into apology mode.

"Not a whole lot has changed," said Adam Denison, a spokesman for OnStar, in a conversation with ABC News.  "If people call in to cancel their service, we will inform them we will maintain the cellular connection, but they can disconnect at any time."

Denison said the company is not selling the data to others -- such as insurance companies -- nor is it planning to do so.  He added that if a government agency were to call asking for data on a driver's behavior, OnStar "could share data anonymously."

"We are always very specific about with whom we share customers' personal information, and how they will use it," said Joanne Finnorn, OnStar's vice president for subscriber services, in a statement.  "We have never sold any personally identifiable information to any third party."

The statement went on to say, "We apologize for creating any confusion about our Terms and Conditions.  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."

Despite the company's assurances, this is another thorny case in which people have been monitored by a large company -- in this case, one that can tell where and how fast they drive -- and it may be possible for law enforcement agencies or others to subpoena them to get it.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio