back to article OnStar backs down over GPS tracking of ex-customers

OnStar has backed down from a proposed change in its terms and conditions that would have seen the vehicle info system collecting car monitoring data on former customers. The OnStar system, operated as part of General Motors, embeds a mobile phone and GPS in customer’s cars and relays a constant stream of data back to the …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
Big Brother

Absolute deal-breaker

I consider On-Star an absolute deal breaker on any new vehicle. I will insist upon the module being physically removed, and the hole where it used to be shown to me. Not "disabled via software", not "we pulled the fuse" - totally gone.

The scary thing is that as the vehicle electronics become more tightly integrated, the day will come when that is not an option: there will be no "OnStar" module per se, but rather one module that controls radio, navigation, climate control, and dashboard, and that removing it will cause the engine control unit and transmission control unit to freeze.

12
1
Silver badge
Thumb Down

You car comes with OnStar!

OnStar terms:

By turning the key in the ignition, you accept these terms. If you do not accept them, do not start the car. Instead, contact the manufacturer or installer to determine its return policy. You must comply with that policy, which might limit your rights or require you to return the entire vehicle in which OnStar is installed.

(To paraphrase the MS license)

0
0
Silver badge
FAIL

Seriously

“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,"

Seriously? She said that?

Words escape me...

6
0

Words escaped her

By a different orifice

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Blah customer blah love blah happy smiley face blah

I know just what you mean - whenever I see the expression "Someone's spotted what a bunch of wanktards we're being and so we've had to backpedal desperately in order to avoid a truly monumental public relations shitstorm" dressed up in some sort of namby-pamby new-age customer-benefit speak, I feel the unique taste of vomit in my mouth.

0
0

but why ..

I wonder what they wanted to collect it for.

Did they really want to sell it without first making the data anonymous, or did they just gets that "collect it if you can" bug that so frequently infects marketing staff and quants.

Sort of like watching porn by numbers

0
0
Silver badge
Facepalm

@Bango Skank - "making the data anonymous"

Hmmm, this "anonymous" OnStar user commutes between 32 Windsor Gardens and Vulture Towers, I wonder who it could be...

0
0

Why need to collect anything?

There's plenty of systems out there like ones you can get in a Volvo for example which can phone the emergency services in a crash and give your co-ordinates, without needing to send the data anywhere else.

If it was one of those trackers which activate when the car is stolen I could understand it, but again why it needs to know all those details I don't know. Just location of the car is good enough. Glad it doesn't seem to exist in the UK.

1
0

I suppose

Collecting crash data (such as the high spike in Gs, like they have in open wheel racing) would be a good thing, so the engineers can make things safer. I get that. And on our old Envoy, we got diagnostic reports on component wear, performance, etc, which was darn nice to have. But yeah, a lot of it doesn't need to be recorded.

0
0
Silver badge
Meh

It is a real-time system. If it isn't collecting, correlating, and giving the human operators useful info then it won't work. That means you might die. Volvo collects/process the same info as OnStar; see my post below.

0
1
Black Helicopters

"OnStar will need to make a full 180"

Perhaps I'm cynical, but I suspect that they may go further and make a full 360...

1
0
Silver badge
WTF?

The title is optional, and must contain whitespace...or not

“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” OnStar president Linda Marshall said in a statement.

Linda, my dear, let me guess...You (perhaps not you personally, but the imperial "you") were seduced by the siren song of customer-as-product. That seems to be going around. But really, did none of your fresh-faced, newly-minted, 20-something marketing geniuses (an oxymoron if ever there was one) ever considered doing something anachronistically referred to as "market research"?

I know...thinking is so hard these days...

7
0
Devil

20-something marketing geniuses

Think about it, What do 20-somethings do often and endlessly. Facebook. These "20-something marketing geniuses" think nothing of sharing every aspect of their lives and nothing of being unpaid marketeers for the latest "viral" ad campaign. They did market research, they just didn't go beyond their navels.

6
0
Silver badge
Thumb Up

@wayne 8 - Well said

Think you've nailed the reason we're in such a two'n'eight these days!

The first Facebook generation that, as you say, think nothing of spraying the minutae of their lives all over the shop are are now safely secured in the workplace and have greased their way into better positions. Yhese people think that just because they have nothing to hide, the rest of us wish to live the same way.

Sorry, but some of us saw computers enter the home, used BBS systems and the fledgling internet on home dialup and we learned to be paranoid from an early age, knowing that what goes around will come back around and bite you in the arse!

5
0
Silver badge
Big Brother

“one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory”

Short memory, eh Chuck. Clearly you haven't been paying attention to what has been going on in D.C. for the past decade.

2
1
Silver badge
Meh

Bad Press Person, Bad Lawyers, Great System

Firstly I'll say that GM didn't handle this well and their lawyers (who decided this whole thing was a good idea didn't help) but I can say with absolute confidence that GM didn't set out to screw anyone with OnStar.

I wrote the book (literally) on the initial retrofits for OnStar in Cadillac; where the system was first available from GM and you could get it as a dealer installed option: And have done several updates since. It is designed and used as a safety and convenience tool that lets you have a live person at your disposal for about anything and will call emergency services if you are in a crash and can also find your car if it is stolen or even if you lose it in a huge parking lot/garage. It's like a navigation system that works combined with a concierge!

The system can't do that if it isn't tracking you all the time. That's why it works so well. Every real time notification system (even those from Volvo and Mercedes) has to know where you are at all the time or it won't deliver the results you want: Then you will complain that it didn't work as advertised.

I'll close my rant by saying that GM is trying like hell to make money by making shitty cars that nobody really wants and the board and investors demand revenue from something. That something shouldn't be your privacy for sure, but on the whole GM doesn't give two shites about your daily goings on. They are just trying to make everyone happy by giving you what you want from technology.

If you've got a complaint it should be with GM's house legals and Ms. Linda; not OnStar.

2
3
Silver badge

Thanks, Solomon Grundy,

That was an interesting inside analysis. However, I think you have missed the point. I'm concerned that you think that the customer "wants" all those things (seriously, is there a market for people who can't find their car in a carpark? If there is, should they be driving?). Does any customer actually want her/his seatbelt status reporting back to someone else?

A better ways to do this would be to have nothing is reported/recorded unless and until the customer requests it (either through pushing a button in the car, making a phonecall, or wrapping the car around a tree). Having a live link is overkill, and was bound to run into this problem eventually.

1
0
Coat

Would be useful at DisneyWorld

The size of those car parks are huge - and if you happen to have one of those standard white hire cars (well they were when I went) and forgot (in your haste to enter the park) to note where you were. Assuming you had the details of the car (I guess that's where it falls down) or you owned a standard model "compact" you could ask for location - also assuming you had a portable SatNav or smartphone....

Just dug myself a hole there...mine with a pencil and paper in the pocket

2
0
Silver badge
Meh

Everyman Problem

is what you just defined. I don't need help to find my car either but you have to realize that the mass of meatbags out there either do need help to find their car or they just feel 'better' because they have the option of using the system (and they are paying for it)..

I don't think you are wrong: Those people shouldn't be driving at all but we can't stop them and the OnStar system helps make sales and helps the stupids. The down side is that if you are in a single person crash where you are injured then there won't be a person to push the button, the system just has to work . Those people obviously need help and I don't think it is wrong to deliver an intrusive service if they are asking (and paying) for it. Most of El Reg readers are a bit above the tech curve but you're running a business then revenue has to come from somewhere. It obviously won't come from the select few who read this but we're kind of different.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

"Tracking" vs. Reporting

I, too, work in the industry and feel we need to agree on certain definitions first, and then compare points. The issue with OnStar's Terms Of Service is not with "tracking" in the sense you use it. Instead, it is with "reporting." Yes, the GPS receiver in OnStar has to continuously determine its position for OnStar to offer the services you mention, but it does not need to continuously report position or even store it. So "track" as you use it really just means "know where I am" not "report where I am."

I believe the earlier and still current (until the new ones take effect) OnStar terms of service only provide for reporting location when an offered service is requested. The customer can request emergency service by pressing the OnStar button, which reports location. After the customer has notified police the vehicle is stolen, they can request OnStar report location to recover the vehicle. Most importantly to many people, when the airbag deploys or an impact is otherwise detected that suggests a collision, then OnStar will automatically make contact and report location. Note that none of these services involves recording or reporting location or other sensitive location or driving data on a routine basis.

That all changed with the new terms of service, which added permission with no further notice to the customer of routine reporting of driving data which can but may not necessarily include location: 1) vehicle-identifiable data that can be shared with third parties to provide various unspecified OnStar services; and 2) anonymous data for any use whatsoever. The most controversial change was 3) to continue reporting any of the data from #1 &/or #2 even after a consumer cancels the OnStar subscription, unless he or she additionally contacts OnStar and requests that the data link be cancelled.

As everyone following the news knows, OnStar retracted #3, but what many are missing is that both #1 and #2 are still in the terms of service scheduled to take effect January 1st. That's one point.

My last point is that #2 is getting some attention over whether data -- especially location data -- will adequately be made anonymous, but that many people are missing the real issues with #1. Those terms that allow vehicle-identified data to be shared with third parties to provide unspecified OnStar services with no further notice to customers or their permission is a door left wide open to potential abuse. Even if it doesn't include location data, would consumers agree to allow their vehicles' identifiable driving data to be provided to insurers for underwriting and rate-setting purposes?

I don't have any problem with a company requesting permission to collect customers' data for any legal purpose it likes, as long as the customers are explicitly told what data are involved, who will get it, how it will be used, and how it will be protected from mis-use. While OnStar may well take this approach, their new terms of service certainly do not require it. If they do plan to take the approach of explicitly asking permission, then they don't need terms of service in advance that don't require that behavior, and consumers shouldn't be required to accept such carte blanche terms.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

They knew people would not like it ..

.. what they realised was that they could not get away with it.

1
0
FAIL

Sad that the concept of privacy...

...is rapidly heading for the tar pits. Funny...I never suspected that GPS, the most accurate and helpful navigation tool out there, would ever be used against us, the users. I'm sure the original GPS system designers are shocked that marketers have perverted its intended use.

1
0
Mushroom

Given its original intended use was to update the inertial reference platforms on ballistic missile submarines so they could more reliably incinerate cities half the world away, I imagine they cry themselves to sleep every night at the terrible harm GPS is now causing.

1
0
Silver badge

Why, why, why

Didn't our (I do live here in the USA) government let this company go bankrupt like it should have.

Then this whole thing would die die die!!!

Unfortunately there are other auto manufacturers that subscribe to OnStar...

1
1

Former customers

Excuse me for thinking this is illegal. These are former clients which you no longer have a relationship with . They are no longer using your service so why is it legal for you to even interact with their onstar unit. I would think that would constitute unauthorized access to a computer device .

6
0

That's what I thought - their collecting data becomes illegal wiretapping the moment the contract ends.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

It's not the car that is the product they are selling

it's their (ex-)customers!

1
0
Silver badge
FAIL

Well, duh

Like anybody was going to like that...

0
0
Silver badge
Pint

Thank you...

To those that actually take the time to read the Ts&Cs on behalf of those that can't be bothered. I (we?) seriously appreciate it very much.

0
0
This topic is closed for new posts.

Forums