In the past I’ve written about some pretty evil things done by large corporations: Google, Apple, Microsoft, AT&T, and a few others. What I read today, though, sets a new low, and from a most unlikely source.
Jonathan Zdziarski recently wrote a piece on GM’s OnStar service and a recent update to its terms and conditions. Jonathan was disturbed, to the point where he immediately canceled his OnStar service. And I don’t blame him; from the looks of it, GM vehicles with OnStar are now spy cars–and I don’t mean the James Bond type, either, I mean the type that spy on you. From the article:
OnStar’s latest T&C has some very unsettling updates to it, which include the ability to sell your personal GPS location information, speed, safety belt usage, and other information to third parties, including law enforcement. To add insult to a slap in the face, the company insists they will continue collecting and selling this personal information even after you cancel your service, unless you specifically shut down the data connection to the vehicle after canceling.
As you scroll down the list of information collected, you see that once you get past important emergency services (what we pay OnStar for), OnStar now has given themselves the right to also use this information to stuff their pockets. 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.”
(some emphasis added)
As Jonathan goes on to say, there really is no such thing as anonymized GPS data. It’s a simple matter to find the GPS coordinates where a vehicle is parked at least 12 hours out of the day, and assume that’s probably the owner’s residence. If location is involved at all, the data is not anonymized.
I’m disturbed enough that this data is being shared with law enforcement; if OnStar knows a car regularly exceeds an underposted speed limit by 10 miles per hour or more, and shares that with the cops, that’s problem enough right there. Especially when they know, for example, there are sports car models or high-end luxury vehicle models disregarding the posted limits (i.e. vehicle owners that can definitely afford tickets and are ideal for maximizing revenue). It’d be bad enough if the privacy invasion affected only GM vehicle owners, but the invasion of privacy actually spills over to the rest of us that will never buy another GM vehicle.
Again quoting Jonathan:
This is too shady, especially for a company that you’re supposed to trust your family to. My vehicle’s location is my life, it’s where I go on a daily basis. It’s private. It’s mine. I shouldn’t have to have a company like OnStar steal my personal and private life just to purchase an emergency response service. Taking my private life and selling it to third party advertisers, law enforcement, and God knows who else is morally inept. Shame on you, OnStar. You disgust me.
I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
Particuarly infuriating, is that we, the government, bailed out GM, and they repay our gratitude by doing something that is downright un-American. This country was founded on privacy; see the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution (and it’s quite possible other amendments, such as the Ninth and Tenth, apply as well in certain cases). This is a wholesale invasion of our privacy, that has a disastrous effect on all of us, GM customers or not.
I’m horrified. This is inexcusable. Shame on you, GM. I wish you a speedy bankruptcy, this time without a taxpayer bailout.
Action items for my readers:
- First, be aware of the issue. This affects you if you own, drive, or ride in a GM vehicle with OnStar service, even if the OnStar service is not active, unless the OnStar circuit has been deactivated by pulling the fuse.
- If you don’t like what GM is doing here, and you own one or more GM vehicles with OnStar capability, cancel the service and remove the OnStar fuse (search in your favorite search engine for “onstar fuse location” followed by the make, model, and model year of your vehicle).
- If you drive someone else’s GM vehicle with OnStar capability, be aware your privacy basically doesn’t exist if the OnStar circuit is active. Whether or not you pull the OnStar fuse for the time you’re driving the vehicle is your decision; the possible unhappiness of the vehicle’s owner should be weighed against your lack of privacy. Likewise, when you’re done driving that vehicle, put the fuse back in if you took it out (unless the owner instructs you otherwise).
- Since seat belt information is involved, this technically even affects passengers in a GM vehicle with OnStar capability. Unfortunately, you may not have much choice here, as many state laws now require seat belt usage for all passengers, front seat or otherwise.
- If you are in the market for a new car, and a GM vehicle was on the list, it’s time to rethink that. It goes without saying I think this is reason enough to disqualify all GM vehicles from consideration.