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October 3, 2011

OnStar Amends Privacy Policy to Snoop (More) on You

Filed under: Autos,Electronics — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:49 am

We have all seen the OnStar commercials where a poor soul has had a traffic accident and a reassuring voice comes over the loudspeaker asking the driver if everything is okay or if they need help. That’s the kinder, gentler OnStar.

The more invasive OnStar is the one that is changing its privacy policy and terms and conditions statement, effective December 2011, to do a little extra snooping on its customers, and even on people who discontinue the OnStar service! [Current privacy policy, revised privacy policy.]


In addition to the other reasons they collect data such as diagnostic trouble codes, oil life remaining, tire pressure, fuel economy and odometer readings; information about crashes involving your vehicle, including the direction from which your vehicle was hit, which air bags have deployed, and safety belt usage about your vehicle, they have allowed themselves the ability to collect:

“the location and the approximate speed of your Vehicle based on the Global Positioning System (“GPS”) satellite network” “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.”

Some critics suggest that GPS information is never anonymous, because GPS coordinates can pinpoint places such as your home address.


They also disclose for the first time that they keep tracking your car even if you cancel your OnStar service.

“Unless the Data Connection to your Vehicle is deactivated, data about your Vehicle will continue to be collected even if you do not have a Plan. It is important that you convey this to other drivers, occupants, or subsequent owners of your Vehicle. You may deactivate the Data Connection to your Vehicle at any time by contacting an OnStar Advisor.”

On September 27, after much public criticism and a call for an investigation by a New York congressman, OnStar decided to retract this part of their planned changes to their policy.

All the other changes will be implemented including that they now say they can share your data with their own affiliates for “marketing purposes,” and have removed the section about requiring your consent first:


OnStar certainly provides great lifesaving services, and while their privacy policy gives you the ability to opt-out, their data collection practices and plans to give or sell your data to law enforcement agencies and marketing companies may nonetheless be disturbing to some. One such person is Jonathan Zdziarski, who discovered these changes and writes persuasively about it.

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  1. With Hyundai now starting to provide an on-star like service we can probably expect other manufacturers to do the same.

    As much as I hate government regulation, it appears that they will need to look into some areas to protect our privacy.

    However, I would prefer that they start with Negative option schemes used by magazines and many other companies. Come to think of it, On-Star automatically signs you up for continued service. You are unable to opt out of continued service on the website but are required to contact them by phone or the onstar system. To their credit, they do tell you how to cancel it without a lot of hunting to find the info.

    I’ve just canceled my On-Star service. Next, I’m transferring banks to protest Bank of America’s debit card fees.

    Comment by Tim — October 3, 2011 @ 6:39 pm
  2. Something I’ve always wondered about is who really owns the Onstar unit on your vehicle — you or Onstar? If it’s you, you can always cut the wires or apply a hammer to it. If Onstar owns it, you can’t touch it. Anyone knows?

    Comment by anonymous — October 11, 2011 @ 3:07 am

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