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
      • 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
        You don't have On-Star? After that glowing testemonial? And why is that?
      Mitchell
      • 3 Years Ago
      Dont ever buy a car with onstar service. Make them take all that crap out of it or dont buy it.
      charlie
      • 3 Years Ago
      but bush told them it was ok. rolmfao
      • 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.
      Ken
      • 3 Years Ago
      I bought a used Chevy Tahoe and was thinking about subscribing to On Star, this changed my mind in a hurry.
        defensearms
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ken
        does not matter, you are being tracked anyway, you need to disable the OnStar on your car......
        bshum3
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ken
        Is the hard wear already installed ? If so they can track and sell you anyways .
          • 3 Years Ago
          @bshum3
          More than likely. Used to be only certain cars had the hardware set up. Now more and more cars do. You have to remove part oe all the hardware. DO NOT go to a GM dealership to have it done either!!!
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ken
        apparently that doesn't matter....don't forget to remove or disable the hardware.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ken
        Ken, you must remove part or all of the ONSTAR hardware. They can still track you even if you do not have the service. TAKE OUT THE HARDWARE!!!
      • 3 Years Ago
      It is well known that the most dangerous place in the world is between Sen. Shumer and a TV camera. He's still busy getting publicity for himself, not because he cares about somebody other than his getting elected.
        bshum3
        • 3 Years Ago
        Sen. Schumer is a consumer advocate unlike his political opponents that seem to be consumer adversaries .
      • 3 Years Ago
      GPS tracking devices allow bad guys and crooked cops protecting big money drug interests to harass and follow you wherever you go. Think about that for a while. This violates the fundamental freedom to be left alone. The new GPS devices are self energizing, They do not need to be battery powered or hard wired under the dash to the electrical system . Look for the new trackers in conjunction with metallic moving parts such as brake rotors, wheels, driveshafts, driving axles, or the like. The old ones are a square or rectangular metallic box that is out of place. Crooked cops also can track you through the "on Star" or BMW's X Drive through the internet signal, RF signal. GPS signal or satellite radio signal these things give out. In Europe, BMW X drive keeps your location information for two years. Buy a jammer
      Mr. Needles Ca.
      • 3 Years Ago
      cars and trucks 1970 and under will not have big brother attached.
      JD
      • 3 Years Ago
      Look at that, Obama has found a way to make his Government Motors keep a good eye on us. I am so glad I did not buy a GM, Chevy or Dodge this year. Not matter, Uncle Sam will be giving all of us tags in our body before 2012 is over any way. Be ready when they "Mandate" a vaccine for the flu or west nile disease.
      LL
      • 3 Years Ago
      I am new to the internet and a friend of mine told me about this car insurance website: ( http://tinyurl.com/InsuranceTip ) It was so easy to find everything I was looking for, when getting free quotes and comparing prices. I saved over 380.00 dollars on my families car insurance costs. My neighbor is an insurance agent and he was amazed at the deal I found.
      • 3 Years Ago
      OBAMA GAVE THEM THE BAIL OUT ,GOVENMENT OWNS PART OF GM AND HAS ACCESS TO EVERYTHING,AND THE INFORMATION THEY COLLECT,SO DO NOT SAY THEY WILL NOT USE IT, LETS SAY OBAMA WANTS TO KNOW WHERE THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE WAS LAST NIGHT, YOU THINK HE CANT CALL THE BIG WIGS AT GM AND IN MINTS FIND OUT TIME AND PLACE, WHERE THAT PERSON IS.JUST IN TIME FOR THE ELECTIONS.
        adam646l
        • 3 Years Ago
        Wow! That didn't take long, GET OVER IT! 4 MORE years! 4 more YEARS!
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