Drivers win half a victory from OnStar over privacy

Car key in door lock

Let's hope OnStar didn't break anything by throwing itself into reverse so quickly.

Facing huge backlash over its controversial plan to track driving data of current and former subscribers, the General Motors subsidiary on Tuesday backed down.

Sort of.

OnStar now says it will not electronically stalk customers who end their contract or collect any new data on them.

If it wants to do so in the future, OnStar says it will ask permission.

Like anyone in their right mind would ever agree to that.

An OnStar statement defended its actions, saying its tracking plan "would allow it to provide former customers with urgent information about natural disasters and recalls affecting their vehicles even after canceling their service."

But we know this service isn't simply benevolent.

Such a connection would also allow OnStar to track speed, location and other data, like seat belt usage, and potentially sell that info to marketers.

That's why, as an OnStar subscriber, I only count this as half a victory.

The company made no announcements as to the other controversial aspect of its plan: collecting and selling subscriber information to other companies.


"The company notably did not say it would reverse its plans to be able to sell data collected from existing subscribers, however. The GM unit could track a vehicle’s speed, for example, as well as its location. Though OnStar officials insist they currently have no plans to do so, such data might be sold to a marketer interested in reaching motorists who might be passing a shopping mall or to pitch a nearby brand of gasoline."

The revised subscriber agreement sent out last week gives OnStar the authority to collect vehicle data "for any purpose, at any time, provided that following collection of such location and speed information identifiable to your vehicle, it is shared only on an anonymized basis."

This part needs to go, too.

"Consumers have a right to know what data is being collected about them and have a right to decide whether they want to share that information and when," U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) -- one of the lawmakers applying pressure on the vehicle safety and diagnostics company -- said in applauding OnStar's reversal.

If I had a choice, I wouldn't allow OnStar to share my information. But -- as of now -- I don't.

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