A change in the terms of service agreement for General Motors’ OnStar telematics system has ignited a debate over the privacy of vehicle information. A blogger from a computer security company discovered that the newest contract for OnStar allows the company to maintain a data connection with customers’ vehicles even when their OnStar subscription is canceled, and also allows OnStar to sell data regarding the location of the vehicle to outside companies.
The blogger, Jonathan Zdziarski, claimed that OnStar could continue tracking customer vehicles and would sell the information on to third parties. He worried that insurance companies or police departments might want to buy information on speeding cars or the location of certain vehicles. That started a flurry of debate online about how much access OnStar should have to information on GM vehicles.
OnStar vice president for subscriber services Joanne Finnorn has tried to alleviate some of the concerns. In a video posted to YouTube yesterday, she asserts that OnStar doesn’t routinely monitor the speed and location or vehicles, nor can operators surreptitiously eavesdrop on in-car conversations.
In a statement, Finnorn clarified that OnStar maintains a two-way data connection to a customer’s vehicle even when the service is canceled, so that OnStar could still warn drivers of information like approaching severe weather or recall notices. If a customer specifically requests the connection be severed, OnStar will honor the request. Finally, OnStar asserts that location data is made anonymous and that the company has, “never sold any personally identifiable information to any third party.”
“Privacy is very important to us at OnStar because we know it’s important to our customers,” Finnorn said in the YouTube video.
Of course, plenty of subscribers use OnStar services for turn-by-turn directions, locating stolen vehicles, and notifying emergency services when the airbags deploy. All of those features require sending the car’s GPS coordinates to OnStar headquarters. But how much of that data should the company track? Is it reasonable for OnStar to maintain a data connection with subscriber vehicles, even after the subscription ends, or are the new terms an invasion of drivers’ privacy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Sources: Jonathan Zdziarski, OnStar