back to article GM OnStar cars will upload all data unless owners opt out

Cars fitted with OnStar's technology will be tracked even if the owners don't sign up to the service, in a change to the company's policy that will kick in come December. OnStar is a service offered by General Motors USA, which inserts a mobile phone, along with telemetry tracking kit, into cars sold by the company. Owners are …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you want to travel anonymously ...

    You get a taxi. From a taxi rank. And you pay with cash. Every spy knows that.

  2. Sporkinum

    disconnect it

    Easier and more reliable to physically disable OnStar than to rely on OnStar to honor your request. Pull a fuse, disconnect an antenna, etc. My OnStar equipped car os old enough it is not an issue as it still has an analog cellular radio and is no longer supported/connected by OnStar.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      But then...

      ...won't they assume from the lack of signal that the car has been stolen without your knowledge and put out a report to the police about it? Plus they may rig the car so that a lack of OnStar hampers certain nonessential-but-useful features--like navigation for some cars.

      1. Alexander McCallister


        The owner's manual in 2011 GM cars specifically talks about physically disabling OnStar if you want - but does tell you you should go to your GM dealer and pay them to have this done...

        1. Gil Grissum

          Sure, if you trust them to do that. What if they are hacks?

      2. pjcard

        stolen without your knowledge

        As opposed to stolen with your knowledge?

      3. Sporkinum

        Not really.

        They only report crashes or stolen cars for people that pay for the OnStar service. That doesn't mean they don't have data on the car available though. Disabling the cellular radio should not affect any functionality other than OnStar.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This is not an issue for spies.

      It's someone going about their ordinary everyday business that someone else disapproves of.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So another human will see your face

      and have your DNA from your sweaty banknotes?

      1. GitMeMyShootinIrons


        You go around with a Burka, sunglasses and gloves.

    4. Gil Grissum

      Well, that tells me to buy a somewhat older Cadillac, rather than a newer one. Black DTS. WOT?

  3. LPF

    This of course will enable road pricing to be carried out!

  4. MontyP

    "... already getting over-the-air software modifications."

    ... like a following policeman requesting that the car in front slow to a crawl.... or explode... Im sure prety soon interfering with your leagally required tracking system will be made illegal, if not, would certainly invalidate your insurance.

    I wondered when this would happen apparently sooner than I thought :-(

    1. ChaosFreak

      Cops can already remote-disable the engine

      Actually, it's already possible for cops to remotely disable your car's engine if you have OnStar. It's billed as an anti-theft measure but how long will it be until cops start abusing this functionality.

      Hats of to British SciFi writer Peter Hamilton who saw this coming ten years ago!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Critical data

    >Until now, that data was only available where owners had been signed up to the service

    Not so.

    In nearly all recent cars there is an event data recorder which loops continually until the airbag triggers and then it stops recording thereby saving the critical information prior to the crash.

    Your car is already watching you.

  6. D Moss Esq

    Business opportunity

    Who will be the first to write an application which allows motorists to transmit messages of their own devising to OnStar, proving definitively that they were travelling the right way down that one-way street, wearing a seat belt and doing no more than 20 mph?

    These security swords, eh?, they always have another edge.

    1. Matthew 3

      "Your car is already watching you"

      Not mine.

      Data recorder? No.

      Airbag? No.

      One of the joys of driving an older car is that the most techy thing on it is electronic ignition (although the real Luddite could still rely on pesky points).

      I can still listen to cassette tapes too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Driver an older diesel truck...

        ...and you barely need electricity to run it, as putting in 2nd gear and letting it go from a small hill will do it. You don't even need spark plugs. Some REALLY old trucks were jumpstarted with a shotgun shell. These engines could survive an atomic blast EMP and keep running.

        Modern diesel generators are started with compressed air. And even without pressure in the system, there is a manual pump.

        And I enjoy tapes too.

      2. Zippy the Pinhead


        If your car is old enough to have a computer in it. (Post 1986 I believe) Then the computer in your car probably does have this ability!

    2. Armando 123

      Me. I've been working on one to get the phone onto our current network provider.

      I really like OnStar ... I have a couple quibbles about this and that, but it's a great idea. And I can see GM using the crash data to make better/safer cars. But even if I trusted GM to not share data about me as a matter of policy, I don't know that I trust every employee and contractor there with that, and I certainly don't trust hackers who could get at it.

      1. Mark 65

        If GM were going to make better, safer cars they would already have done so. Instead they just sat around making big-arsed SUV shitbuckets that chew fuel and it sent them broke.

  7. Dave Barnhart

    I wonder if there is an easily accessible SIM card or something that contains the vehicle's identification. If so think of the mischief-making!

    1. 404 Silver badge

      OBD2 and 3

      You can access all the data from the OBD port under your dash - there are various control units to play with, including the OnStar system. HP Tuner software works pretty good.

      I already do this in my quest to get 30mpg out of my GMC Canyon (deliberately purchased without OnStar)., it's a bitch sometimes but worth messing with.

      Big BUT here though, one of my boys was tapped from behind on a gravel road two years ago (they still feud out here and my truck was a certain color) in a 03 Dodge Ram quadcab,pickup went over a 40ft cliff, hit a tree, and didn't get airbag deployment - went to sue Chrysler over the BS (my little girl slammed the windshield and my son did the steering wheel and windshield - with seatbelts on - they were hurting), during the investigation all the PCM/BCM data magically got wiped. Chrysler win. I'm still paying hospital bills over that accident.


      1. The First Dave Silver badge

        No.1 Why not sue the other driver?

        No.2 Why do you need to pay hospital bills - don't you live in a civilised country?

        1. 404 Silver badge


          1. They never caught them.


          2. No - Unless you count the idiots who run the United States as civilized - THEY have free medical care.


  8. Chad H.


    Those who get involved in crashes due to bad driving are no longer subsidised by those who drive correctly.

    Seems fair.

  9. Ale


    This should be great for the insurance premiums of those of us with nothing to hide!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Bad driving

      Yes - if only it could monitor the amount of attention being paid to the road and the surroundings, and the degree of anticipation being applied, the two primary causes of accident.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Chad H.

      Two minor points

      >by those who drive correctly

      Should read "by those of us who drive correctly", unless you're one of the bad drivers

      And, not wishing to give anybody in authority any ideas, but unless they link in a camera system this won't show whether you were using a mobile phone, eating a snack or, as is not that uncommon, engaging in some form of in sexual activity.

      1. Chad H.

        So I see...

        Because we can't monitor everything, we should monitor nothing?

        Great. If someone gets away with theft, it must be OK for me to steal

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If you have nothing to hide...

      you have nothing to fear! When will you learn! Get with the program.

      That you may not want others to know about you is irrelevant. Monitoring is for your own good. After all, your mileage, fuel and location claim for your expenses and tax return is to be recorded on your expense report automatically, wont it be....

    4. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge

      Cor, a slow learner!

      Thirteen years of New Labour and you still haven't learned; are you a bit slow, perhaps?

      If data can be abused, it WILL be abused. If sensitive data can be lost, then it is CERTAIN to be lost, repeatedly, and leaked all over the entire world without any redress or compensation. If the authorities can dream up a way to bilk you of more of your hard-earned money by some fiat of legislation, then they will do this and happily skip and giggle their way to Orwell's 1984 by any back door they can find.

      If you get a car fitted with this spyware, then physically disable it immediately. Cut off the antennae, remove the SIM, hammer the poxy thing into dust. DO NOT trust a government to act in your best interest; they never, ever do.

      1. Chad H.

        Or better yet - wear a tinfoil hat, that will stop them!

        How exactly do you see this data being misused?

        Before you suggest location data, can I remind you that we already have that from your mobile phone?

        So some information on whether youve been wearing your seatbelt now additionally gets to sit in done company's database until a court requests it. Boo hoo.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Down


          You seem to be rathy touchy.

          >How exactly do you see this data being misused?

          For a start it only tells halft the story. As I pointed out earlier it does not record the behaviour of the driver which is more important than hard data.

          Given an accident, let's say that one driver is going slightly above the speed limit, another driver dawdling along is distracted by, for the sake of argument, talking on a mobile phone and drifts into the path of the first driver causing a collision.

          What conclusion are crash investigators going to come to by analysing the available data?

          Someone cuts you up forcing you into the path of another car. What does the data show?

          The problem with having half the facts is that no amount of reasoning on your part will change the opinion of insurance claims / police investigators because those hard facts prove you to be falsifying an explanation.

        2. Mark 65


          "So some information on whether youve been wearing your seatbelt now additionally gets to sit in done company's database until a court requests it."

          I don't think you need monitoring software to tell if a seatbelt was in use - tell-tale strap marks and/or your face decorating the windshield normally suffice.

  10. cd

    Anyone who drives a GM car...

    Deserves to be tracked and ratted...

    1. Armando 123

      Oh come on. For one thing, they don't get their brakes from Toyota.

      GM has made some pretty good cars in recent years. The Cadillac CTS is darn good, the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice was a fun little car, the Pontiac G6 was a darn good car for its class, and Buick has had the highest customer satisfaction rating in Consumer Reports. And when I test-drove a Volt at an event, even my wife (whom I've nicknamed "Parnelli" and who hates American cars) was impressed. They still make some that aren't good, but at least they aren't as hateful as the Prius or as ugly as the Nissan Cube.

    2. MJI Silver badge

      There are some good ones

      Mainly Austrailian

      The European ones were good a while back - remember the Senator?

  11. NoneSuch
    Thumb Down

    You can bet...

    ...the insurance companies are paying some sort of access fee for that info. I would also bet Homeland Security in the US gets access to your location, speed and where you have been. For your safety and protection, of course.

  12. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge


    From a safety point of view, and although I am a badge carrying tin-foiler, I think this is a good idea. Cars are more likely to be involved in an accident than aeroplanes etc, and no-one complains that planes have black-boxes that even record the voice chatter in the cockpit.

    However, I see no need for this information to be made available to anyone UNLESS the car has been involved in an accident. What next? On-board breathalyzer/blood-test that must be taken before the car will start, and report you to the rozzers?

    From a privacy point of view this is a complete nightmare that would make Orwell sit down and write another 200 pages.

  13. Sly

    drive classics

    duh! Who cares about the sheeple who are spending the money they don't have... buy a car for cash that's exempt from emissions due to being so old that you only have safety inspections at most. All the money you're saving on car payments and extra levels of insurance can be well spent on performance modifications and fuel. why drive angry with a new car when you can drive happy with an old reliable one.

    I have 3 cars... the newest is from 93. the 93 has over 200K miles on it and is getting a new engine cause the last one died a horrible death (bent valves). I've still yet to crack $10K spent on this car... though I'm getting close with the new engine. Compare that with the cost of any new car over 5 years and yeah... having a full size car that seats 5 in comfort (6 if you squeeze another up front and put up the armrests) that gets over 20mpg when all the "new and improved" sedans that can seat 6 and haul their luggage only get 2-4mph more...

    yeah... I'm keeping my older cars.

    Ford is complete idiots to kill off the Crown Victoria... they should have dropped the new 5.0L engine in it and started selling a performance sedan. /rant

    /coat Mines the one with the Mercury Marauder badge on it

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Opt out? If I had that thing in my car, I'd be physically ripping it out. Like you could trust your 'opt out' to be honoured, and not rescinded upon demand from a court/the police/the insurers/an exciting new data-sharing agreement with Google...

    1. Guido Esperanto

      "What next? On-board breathalyzer/blood-test that must be taken before the car will start, and report you to the rozzers?"

      Not so "what next" as "just upon us"

    2. Chad H.

      In car brethalizers

      Already exist, and can be mandated by the courts. They prevent startup and randomly check up on you as you drive.

  15. David Ringrose

    eCall doesn't track

    Don't worry that eCall will be tracking you. The system does not send out any signal before it is actually activated as a result of a serious crash.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge


      So we're assuming that the antenna isn't located just behind the grill then?

    2. Guido Esperanto


      If the capability is there, some numpty in a parliment will give cause for it to be used.

  16. scifidale

    Dont think it'll make much difference to those without insurance (and proberbly no driving licence, road tax MOT etc). all it means is some datacenter somewhere will know where a cars been.

    I hope when they say receive updates to the latest and greatest I hope they dont actually mean the vehicles computer as well, I'd rather not get a (quite literally) BSOD on the motor way!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    void insurance

    When you make a claim, they will reply that the system detected you speeding 6 months ago and your insurance is therefore void.

  18. Quxy

    It's worse than you describe

    OnStar has granted themselves the right to collect this information “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.”

    And as we've seen, there's no such thing as anonymised GPS data: if your car is consistently parked at your home, it's pretty obvious where you live; and pretty easy to figure out who who are from that. This combination of pin-point accuracy, and their prospective customers (law enforcement, marketers, etc.) makes this data collection and resale very disturbing.

  19. shawnfromnh

    @Chad H.

    This will also but insurance scam artists where vehicles are purposely rammed into another in such a way as to make the innocent driver appears guilty or where both parties are part of the scam.

    That type of scam is thought to cost drivers many millions since it raises everyone's premiums though with this system they can track all parties involved in the crash.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How long

    before it is mandatory in the EUSSR?

    1. TimeMaster T

      Uhmm ...

      "track all parties involved in the crash."

      Only if all parties have OnStar.

  21. JB


    Just bought a three year old Saturn with OnStar built in. I always thought it was a gimmick to keep you paying a monthly subscription for something you woud hope never to use, but this puts the last piece of the puzzle in place. You'll be telling me XM satelite radios are tracking my music choices next!

  22. Lord Zedd

    No thanks.

    I'll keep my pre-computer cars that get 30mpg. The only transistors in them are the radio.

  23. JeffyPooh Silver badge

    Remote Software Updates?

    So you go out to your car at 3am, try to start it, and it'll tell you that it's in the middle of a 20-minute software update process that can't be interrupted and "would you please go away". Unless, do you think?, somebody has figured out how to update firmware in only a couple of seconds? Since I've never seen such a thing in my entire life, usually such updates take many long and agonizing minutes, I expect that you'll be locked-out of your own car if you dare to try to drive it while it's randomly applying a software update.

    Next problem: Not all software updates are improvements. Sometimes they make such updates to retroactively meet some inconsequential pollution standard deviation. So you car may suddenly run poorer, and you won't know why.

    It's not a workable system unless they allow the driver / owner to control when the updates are applied. If they did (similar to MS Updates Available, with details), then it might be okay.

  24. Stevie Silver badge


    So someone is doing claimed speed plus X when he/she smashes into you and puts you in hospital for months of expensive surgery, and this technological marvel will enable the insurance companies yet another avenue to weasel out of paying the bills that were in no way your fault?

    After several personally experienced acts of insurance treachery I thought there was no way for my disgust at the US insurance industry to sink any lower than it already has, but this story has done the impossible.

    1. OldBiddie

      It'll follow the Xbox360, PS3 model where the choice is Yes/No - you can choose No, but you won't be able to connect to certain roads if you decline.

  25. BasevaInc

    What if an OnStar version of CheckIn was available on FaceBook???

    Just look for it around the corner!!!

  26. Eduard Coli
    Big Brother

    Bigger brother

    Most car makers have been secretly planting black boxen into cars for sometime now.

    There was a case in Toronto where a conviction was made based on one.

    They track things like direction, speed, when the brakes are applied, etc.

    GM had many times subjected OnStar to feature creep like disabling cars for the repo men and turning on the mikes and tracking for the alphabet mafia.

  27. Zippy the Pinhead

    First thing I would do

    Remove the fuse!

    1. Quxy

      @Remove the fuse

      Sorry, they spotted that flaw. Newer GM vehicles wire it to circuits shared by other electronics systems. Best thing to do is to locate the telematics unit (you're not going to find that without the dealer service manual) and remove it.

  28. JaitcH

    Why would a company, just emergng from bankruptcy, want to spend millions on collecting data on where their vehicles are travelling and doing?

    These are the same companies that nickel and dime costs down, during design, even to the point where the elimination of a bolt is considered a financial win. And these guys want to fit electronic modules?

    This reminds me of when explosive devices were introduced to vehicles, aka air bags, (have you ever had one go off?) along with an electronic control module that analysed data including direction of travel, speed, seat belt usage, etc. which it retained in memory for a few seconds.

    Shortly afterwards, Ontario Provincial Police started scavenging these modules from ALL vehicles involved in accidents and which data was used to lay charges.

    Can you imagine what lies ahead? GM gathers this data, 'shares' it with Plod who, say, determines a speeding infraction and issues a Stop Engine command through OnStar (a feature that already exists). Then, using OnStar GPS, Plod dispatches another Plod, to issue a ticket.

    Given ACPO's desire to track everyone everywhere, OnStar data could be fed, along with number plate camera information, into the Hendon computer for an even more complete picture of Brits going about their daily lives in a 'free' country.

    The applications are limitless. An American drone, spotting a car full of potential terrorists, real or imagined, could signal for it to stop then, with a stopped vehicle, they could destroy the vehicle with less 'collateral' damage.

    How about the repo(session) business? Again, stop and locate vehicle, dispatch tow truck, problem solved.

    Colour me disconnected and the radio module neutered. And a non-GM customer.

  29. Ryan for OnStar

    Hi, I'm with the OnStar team. We're seeing similar concerns from others and have put together a video that provides some additional information.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Hopefully they will do software updates in the same way my satellite TV box does. It has two program flash banks, one active and one standby. Software updates are downloaded into the standby bank then it's made active and the former active bank becomes the standby. This way the software change appears to take no longer than a cold reboot and disaster recovery to the last version is instant.

    I still have trouble believing that eCall won't have some way that it can be remotely activated for my own good and I will be killing it in any car I buy after 2015.

  31. Herby Silver badge

    Just another reason to buy

    a Ford product.

    Oh wait, they use something called SYNC by Microsoft. So now we need to worry about BSODs on the vehicle, having them only boot up with a Microsoft operating system.

    I should go back to vehicles that (originally) had a 6 volt battery system (I was involved in a conversion of one to 12 volts).

  32. Graham Marsden


    "...will also put a mobile phone into every car in Europe"

    Great! So if you have a crash and you were using your mobile, it's ok because eCall put it in there, so it *must* be ok to use!

    Oh, BTW, "if you want to travel anonymously after 2015 then best get yourself an (eCall-exempted) motorcycle", that's all well and good, but the EU wants to add a whole load of "safety" requirements to motorbikes like compulsory ABS, banning *any* modifications to engines, gearbox, sprockets etc (basically anything between the airbox and up to and including the rear wheel!), the possibility of roadside emission checks by Police etc, they could also end up emulating the current rules the French are trying to enforce where bikers are to be made to wear full sleeve hi-viz jackets because it's obviously *their* fault that drivers didn't see them!

    MAG are organising a country-wide protest on Sunday the 25th so bikers can demonstrate exactly what they think of these proposals see for more details and if you're on the M27 Rownhams Services eastbound on Sunday, I'll see you there :-)

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    "We're seeing similar concerns from others"

    You mean that until customers voiced their concerns, it didn't occur to you that consumers would have a problem with paying a premium to get a not-so-useful product and service, while having their rights and privacy violated, potentially leading them to be shafted by their insurance?

    I think the source of the problem is stupidity: either you thought that people (i.e. your customers) are much more stupid and gullible than they are, or that you guys are much more stupid than your customers because you don't see a problem with making people pay to be stabbed in the back. Either way, that's not great business acumen.

    I just clicked your link to your marketing-bullshit-and-lies-by-omission video and see "1 like, 20 dislikes". It says it all. I assume one of your colleagues is the "1 like".

  34. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    All the benefits of Phorm but now fitted to your car.

    How exciting.

  35. Big_Boomer

    Buy GM?

    If they are going to track/log my data, then the obvious solution for me is to NOT BUY a GM car.

    I guess that all the other car manufacturers are rubbing their hands in glee.

  36. Winkypop Silver badge
    Big Brother

    You can stick that up your exhaust pipe!

    No way Jose!

    I think a fully restored muscle car from the 70's is looking real nice.

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