GM's OnStar system is stirring up controversy (GM).
Internet cookies, FourSquare, Facebook check-ins, street cameras everywhere and in-car global positioning systems. There are so many ways to track the movements of consumers, some for which they even volunteer. But people may have their limits.

The Internet and media are abuzz with complaints over the redesign of Facebook, which has been done to make it easier for the company to sell the online behavior of members to third parties. But the latest marketer to set off those who are against all this constant monitoring and tracking is General Motors and its satellite-based OnStar system that does everything from unlock your car when the keys are locked inside, to diagnose a mechanical problem, give you directions from a live person or notify first responders if your car goes off the road.

Last week, OnStar made a change to its "Terms and Conditions," that stipulates it can not only track data such as mileage, speed and location of vehicles, but that it can continue to do so even after the vehicle owner has stopped subscribing to the service, and can sell the data to third parties.

GM, which owns and operates OnStar, can do this because most of its cars are fitted with OnStar hardware. GM gives new buyers a trial period to subscribe to OnStar service packages. Then, they hope owners will re-up with subscriptions that start at $18.95 per month. OnStar also offers OnStar retrofit kits for non GM vehicles.

Senator Charles "Chuck" Schumer (D-NY) who often takes up consumer issues, is calling for a full investigation into OnStar's plan. "By tracking drivers even after they've canceled their service, OnStar is attempting one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory," said Schumer. "I urge OnStar to abandon this policy and for (the Federal Trade Commission) to immediately launch a full investigation to determine whether the company's actions constitute an unfair trade practice."

So far, GM executives are standing pat, saying over the weekend that it apologized for confusion over the move, but that they are planning to stick with it.

Joanne Finnorn, vice president of OnStar Subscriber Services issued a video of herself explaining the changes. Finnorn says that OnStar will not monitor continuous speed and location of vehicles, though such information is in the memory of the car and systems and can be accessed periodically. She also said OnStar does not have the capability to eavesdrop, though there is a voice connectivity between the driver and an OnStar representative when the OnStar button is pushed.

In explaining the new policy, Finnorn said, "OnStar will maintain a two-way connection to their vehicle unless they ask us not to do so [by specifically opting out after a subscription is canceled]." Like many issues that arise over privacy, GM, as with other marketers, have an "opt out" provision that enables consumers to do just that. Privacy hawks, though, want the systems to be opt-in, forcing consumers who don't mind to make the first move.

OnStar is part of the trend toward more so-called "telematics" in cars. The technology makes a vehicle a rolling smart-phone with as much hands-free operation as possible. OnStar was the first to enter into this area, and GM has, by far, the largest number of vehicles on the road with OnStar hardware installed.

The reason OnStar is a subscription base is that the system is hard-wired into the car. Other vehicle manufacturers, such as Ford, have installed systems that work with a consumer's own smart-phones and MP3 players via a bluetooth connection. OnStar is under pressure to make its system look like the better system, and generate more profit from the operation; hence the move to sell more data to third parties.

One of the sticky issues GM will have to grapple with is that GM is still approximately one-third owned by the Federal government. GM management is anxious for the government to sell its stake, dating back GM's 2009 bankruptcy and bailout by the taxpayer. But with GM's stock tanking to well below its 2010 offering price, the taxpayer would take a major hit if the government sold the stock now.

Taking a hard line against Senators that stood up for GM's bailout when the government still own one-third of the company could be more than awkward.


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  • 301 Comments
      Sandy
      • 3 Years Ago
      Well, while you could consider Onstar ..invasive...it saves thousands of lives. My husband recently passed out at the wheel, hit a brick wall and unconsciencous. The air bags deployed, Onstar activated and they immediately called the paramedics. My husband was still out when they got there..if we did not have Onstar..it could have been a lot worse. Also, on several occasions, I was lost..a simple call directed me easily back to where I needed to be. Just knowing that you have someone to call in any emergency, reporting accidents, criminal activity, heart attacks, or whatever the problem is gives an added layer of security. If they want to track me going to work, the groocery store or wherever..so what? I suppose if I were going to commit a criminal act..it might be a bit annoying, however for most of us it provides safety in an unsafe world...and saves lives. If Chuch Schumer wants to stop invasive treatment, maybe he should investigate the IRS, and many other government agencies that do much more to invade our privacy (like at the airports..groping anyone?) and leave our Onstar alone. WE buy GM so we can have Onstar. So little chuckie..please go talk to the TSA and IRS and all the Gov cameras, etc....and leave our Onstar alone. You are such a hypocrit!!!!
      • 3 Years Ago
      You people just kill me . Yes ON-STAR can listen to you and your partners any time you are in your car even when your car is not turned on ! When you bought the car you they told you all about it ,but they ( they dealer) didn`t know about the rest of the things they can do. But now you know tune in later theres more to come. By the way has everyone forgotten about LOJACK ?????
      rb
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just scratched GM off of my list of potential cars to buy.
      jcrtexas2
      • 3 Years Ago
      will not ever buy another G.M product again or any other car that has a computer on it. lots of old cars and trucks out there .
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jcrtexas2
        Sad to say, you must have been hibernating for a few years. Don't you remember the government auto stimulis program? It gave people drastic rebates/cash incentives if they would buy a newer model car. The older model cars went to the scrap heap, to be "decommisioned". So, no older model cars, except for the ones that collectors were able to save,
      fmeyer11
      • 3 Years Ago
      Write down the date, anybody, I agree with Chuck "where's that camera" Shumer. Big Brother is alive and well. I agree with the last post, I will never buy a GM vehicle because of this.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Well another depressing day of hearing how my goverment works...Thanks ..Looks like I'm cancling on.star..I just don't like the idea of being SOLD OUT..for profit or worse. So I like to drive fast and let the wind blow thru my hair. That I'm being tracked and have no privacy, what is happening to the USA and the people who run her? Don't they have enough problems to deal with now? I'm a GROWN-UP if I make a mistake, I'll pay, If I wanna have a little fun and don't hurt anyone. that's my business. I bet our founding fathers never dreamed our rights would be trampled on so severely. I love my Country..but..not the criminals who run her and why arn't they and their rights not being TRAMPLED.. Is there no end?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Weren't you, as a child, taught the Golden Rule? It states you treat others, as you would like to be treated. The current version, which has been in place for many years, states that "HE WHO HAS THE GOLD, MAKES THE RULES".
      LAWMANTOO
      • 3 Years Ago
      his would be useful to me when I forget where I parked my car at the grocery.
      charlie
      • 3 Years Ago
      but bush told them it was ok. rolmfao
      s2at25
      • 3 Years Ago
      Why would the Democrats be suprised that this was happening? THEY owned GM for a while. They bought it with our money and were RESPONSIBLE for running it. That makes them RESPONSIBLE for for this "spying" on American citizens. Now I'm sure BHO will claim that it was G.W. behind this crime but the truth is the dems were in power when it happened so it is in their lap.
      Leonid
      • 3 Years Ago
      Big Brother is watching you. Supreme Court is about to take a case when transmitter was planting in your car. They track what ever they can, and sell it to companies. Or government can use it against you. I think it’s the time to create privacy law.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Leonid
        Already did. Bill of rights and Constitution. Don't seem to be sticking recently, probably because of all the big words.
      almdunadan
      • 3 Years Ago
      There are times when I think Sen. Schumer is a nitwit liberal senator who should be voted out of office. Let me be 100% clear on this point. I agree with him. When a person cancels thier OnStar subscription, that should be the end of GM continuing to receive data about the car. What people need to do right now is not buy OnStar. What people will have to pay attention to is the fine print in the contract. They give you the "trial period", then opt out. Remember,in any transaction, read the details. Because in a court of law, if it was in the agreement, and you signed it, and did not read it, that is YOUR FAULT, not OnStar's.
      dschramm1211
      • 3 Years Ago
      I agree that once you cancel there service the tracking should stop. We had an Impala that had onstar & I thank god we did. When my husband was hit from behind in 2005 he could not get to his phone onstar called the ambulance & police. So there are good things about onstar. I wish I had it in my new car.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @dschramm1211
        You don't have On-Star? After that glowing testemonial? And why is that?
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