Even If You Cancel Your OnStar Service, The Company Will Still Track (And Sell) Your Location

from the how-nice-of-them dept

GM subsidiary OnStar is apparently alerting its customers that even if they decide to cancel their service in the future, OnStar will still track information about them — and, of course, potentially sell that data.

?What?s changed [is that if] you want to cancel your OnStar service, we are going to maintain a two-way connection to your vehicle unless the customer says otherwise.?

OnStar is spinning this as a plan to make it “easier to re-enroll” as a customer, but it also seems to admit that there’s demand out there for the data that OnStar collects, so it has plenty of incentive to get more such data, even from non-customers. Of course, they don’t even seem to acknowledge the creepiness factor of canceling a service, and then still having that service track your every move.

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Companies: gm, onstar

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Comments on “Even If You Cancel Your OnStar Service, The Company Will Still Track (And Sell) Your Location”

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John Doe says:

Welcome to 1984

With all the data being gathered by various parties on our location, spending habits, etc makes the book 1984 looks absolutely mild. Credit cards know where and what you spend your money on, smartphones and apparently your Chevy know your location, cell phone companies have your text and call history and Google and others have tons more info such as surf history, search history, shopping, voice and so on. Not to mention all the info Facebook, Twitter and lots of smartphone apps track.

Anonymous Coward says:

Welcome to 1984

Hide from technology. Only use cash, only turn on your cell phone when you need to use it. Encrypt all your internet traffic and route it through TOR. The alternative is to take the privacy invasion that comes with convenience. OFC the credit card company knows where you use your credit card. They pay the vendor. You can take steps to anonymize yourself, but they’re a hassle so most people don’t bother. Let’s try not to be too alarmist here.

That said, the Onstar policy of tracking ex-customers is fucked beyond creepy.

jilocasin (profile) says:

One more reason to go strictly 'OPT-IN"

This is just one more reason (as if we really needed one) to have a law only allowing companies to collect data on a strictly OPT-IN basis.

As in, unless the customer explicitly “OPTS-IN” to have On-Star track their movements, then they can’t legally do it.

That would kill this particular example of over reaching creepiness dead on arrival.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: How long before...

Remember it’s not a 4th amendment violation for them to get your data from GM. So you have absolutely no recourse on this.

It’s basically the same as the PROTECT IP act I think. Gov’t forces ISPs to save data, then Gov’t can easily obtain the data without having to get a warrant.

The GM factor is just that they are collecting the data already stored inside your vehicle in a central location.

David Cortright (user link) says:

They can't track if the device isn't operational

If I owned a vehicle with OnStar, I’d get under the hood with some wire cutters or maybe a hammer and make sure that the device couldn’t track me. Or is there something in the agreement where this equipment isn’t really mine and is only leased to me for use with their service? I wouldn’t put it past them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There are products explicitly for that already. I have started some research into them but have not purchased or tried one yet.

Here’s one example: bluestar (http://www.costartech.com/pb/products/bluestar.html) — basically you remove your onstar module and plug in the bluetooth module in its place — it then uses your onstar mic & buttons to control your phone as a bluetooth handsfree unit.

There are other equivalent products out there — the one I linked to is just the first I found when I was searching. I have no experience with it myself whatsoever, but it looks cool to me πŸ™‚

Adam Denison at OnStar (user link) says:

OnStar Clarification

Just to clarify, when a customer calls to cancel we give them the choice to allow us to maintain that data connection. You mention the ease of re-enrollment in your post, but there are more benefits to the customer. For example, with that limited two-way connection available we could potentially let people know about severe weather alerts like tornado warnings or mandatory evacuations. Or we could send messages to the vehicle regarding warranty or recall matters. Our VP of Subscriber Services shot a video yesterday where she explains the Terms & Conditions in more detail: http://bit.ly/onstarTandC

Adam Denison
OnStar Communications

AJ says:

Re: OnStar Clarification

“You mention the ease of re-enrollment in your post, but there are more benefits to the customer.”

You mean there are “potentially” more benefits to the customer right?

Either you are offering limited services in exchange for my geographic data, or your not. I could “potentially” win the lottery, but we both know the odds of that happening….

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

Re: OnStar Clarification

It is nice to see OnStar actively helping customers understand the changes. Thanks for showing up hear to add insight.

Or we could send messages to the vehicle regarding warranty or recall matters.

I get enough “Your warranty is about to expire” mailings. It would just be even more annoying if my car started barking out warnings at me…especially when I bought the car used and the warranty wouldn’t cover anything anyways. I like that you still add some value (albeit rare occasions, ie. mandatory evacuations?…tornado warnings?) to non-enrolled customers for tracking, storing, and selling their data. I still believe an opt-out should be an option for those who prefer privacy to little added benefit.

Mike C. (profile) says:

Re: OnStar Clarification

The problem is, from the sounds of things, when a customer cancels they must opt-OUT of further tracking. In this day and age when privacy is such a big issue to a lot of people, wouldn’t the better move have been to set it up as an opt-IN program? Consider the complaints and tirades you’re seeing now versus what people might say if this were the pitch instead:

OnStar is now offering a free limited service for those customers who no longer want or can afford the premium service. With the free service, your account is maintained at OnStar for easy re-enrollment later. Additionally, we can still send you urgent alerts to issues in your area such as road closures, significant weather events (tornado warnings) and mandatory evacuations. This new service is 100% free but will require continued connection to the subscibed vehicle.

Someone was asleep at the switch on this one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OnStar Clarification

You have been blathering silliness like this all over the internet today but you just don’t get it do you Adam?

Done right Onstar was not a bad concept. However, clearly Onstar is no longer out to offer a service as customer centric organization. The temptation was just too great and like so many other businesses of today you could not resist the tendency to view customers as a simple resource to exploited.

You want to collect and warehouse huge amounts of data about one’s presence and activity in the physical world. Something that has no relevance to the reasons why someone would subscribe to the service in the first place. You should be paying us!

I don’t care if you never sell or share it. I don’t care if you don’t sell or share personally identifiable data (which is a joke in the first place with this sort of data). I don’t care if your systems are so secure they will never be hacked. I DON’T CARE! There is no reason to collect and store this data in this manner in the first place! Your policy in regard to how you will treat the data is irrelevant. This is simply something I am not interested in being part of in any form.

Your policy used to limit the use of the data to serve the customer. Such as locating a stolen car or for accident response. You claimed not to otherwise collect or store data. This was the right policy. Now you want to collect data to serve you. Very personal data that shouldn’t be collected and stored in the first place. I will not tolerate the continuous collection of my movements and activities for your benefit. I hope anyone with an Onstar device in their vehicle will ensure the service is cancelled and the system is deactivated. Perhaps we should even consider avoiding GM vehicles completely.

Bryan Price (profile) says:

Just who's data is it, really?

I consider that to be MY data. Just because they CAN track my location is not an excuse/reason that they now OWN MY data.

I think laws do need to be written that explicitly state that a person’s data is the property of that person. There may very well be consequences of getting something like that passed, but we WILL have to deal with it, sooner or later.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

With OnStar's history

OnStar is evil, there is no doubt about that. However, given that OnStar has, since the very beginning, had many cases of their systems being used to spy on people — not just systems and location data, but also audio eavesdropping in the car cabin — happen that were very well publicized, this sort of thing falls squarely under the “what did you expect?” category.

Anyone who allows OnStar equipment in their vehicle without physically disabling it is just asking for trouble of some sort sooner or later. Personally, I have and will continue to avoid purchasing vehicles because OnStar existed in them. I don’t care if it’s “activated” or not. I have to take their word for it, and I cannot trust their word.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: With OnStar's history

I agree with your idea. In the end how do we know if your not being tracked everywhere and that the government isn’t then behind everyone’s back hacking those systems to get the data? They have done it in the past.

I have nothing to hide but the thought of someone tracking me just makes me scream. Why, because history teaches that that will always be used to control us.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Waiter!

I am not a conspiracy crazy, but the gestapo and the secret police did not happen over night. They started by monitoring people first. Check your history.

Just a thought exercise. During your normal day how often do you think someone somewhere can NOT find out where you are? Think about it, really think about it.

Do I think that we are on the verge of being a police state, no. But I think that we have allowed ourselves to be subjected to too much in terms of loss of privacy.

Everyday you can read here and many other sites and see where we have failed to fight the erosion of our privacy. Failed to fight the erosion of our rights.

I am not out there when I worry that I can be put in prison for 75 years because I videoed a police officer in public doing something, anything. When I worry that the government will be able to access information they should not be able to without a court order, but they can.

I am not out there because this worries me. Government should only have exactly the powers we let it have. It should not be able to decide for itself what it can or can not do. It should only perform those duties that we have with full knowledge allowed it to do.

The slippery slope is not only in the passing of laws but in the abdication of those freedoms that are on the surface still there but have long been superseded.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Waiter!

No, tinfoil hats are for those who are wildly speculating. We know for fact how OnStar services have been used in the past, and it’s hardly nutty to expect it to continue in the future. It’s not like it’s some kind of secret, or that OnStar denies any of it. In fact, I’ve long credited (and still credit) OnStar with being unusually forthcoming about this stuff.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you had been paying attention over the past few years, you would be painfully well aware that “aggregated” and “anonymized” do not often mean what people wish them to mean, or what people hope they mean. (See, for example, AOL’s infamous debacle.) Sufficiently clever people (of which there are many) with access to sufficiently diverse and rich data sources (of which there are many) can often quite effectively de-aggregate and de-anonymize data.

In other words, the problem is much, MUCH harder to solve that it appears to be. And this is generously presuming that those claiming to be solving it are actually serious about doing so, not merely attempting to present the appearance.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Here is how it will happen

OnStar has just publicly announced that it is building a target…a very attractive target.

Therefore they will be hacked. Please…do not waste my valuable time foolishly suggesting otherwise. It is inevitable. It is only a question of when, and who, and how.

After they are hacked, some or all of their data will be copied. It will then be put on the open market for sale to anyone with sufficient cash-in-hand. This will include spammers, phishers, pedophiles, rapists, stalkers, extortionists, and others. It will also include purchasers who have already acquired other substantial databases of interest and intend to cross-correlate them — and then either use or sell the resulting enriched data.

All of this will steadily be denied by OnStar’s corporate spokeliars. Eventually, it will become too painfully obvious to deny, and those same spokesliars will use the time-honored phrase of corporations everywhere who have done something really stupid in order to satiate the sociopathic greed of their executives:

“No one could have forseen…”

Anonymous Coward says:

Ok, if they want to keep on tracking me after I cancel their service then I demand that they start paying me for my services. After all, it takes money to buy gas to keep my car going all over the place. You think people who want to buy my location information would still want to buy it if I kept my car at home all day long? If OnStar are going to make money off of me then why shouldn’t I get my fair share of it?

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t have this equipment in my vehicle (thank heavens). If I did, I would be on the internet to find out how to disable it. Once that was done, I would be finding out where the antenna wire comes in from that thing and would cut it too.

Too many times there have been false controls, fuses, etc to give you the sense you did something while the real control lays elsewhere. The best example I can think of is the false thermostat on the wall the employees can go money with and keep complaints down to a minimum while the real control lays locked up and isolated from view.

With the level of sneakiness that requires opt-out rather than opt-in, it is not beyond belief that sort of setup exists already within those vehicles. With the activation to sell this data, it shows that the product maker has no respect for the customer beyond being the cash cow. I in turn have no respect for product makers and service providers who do things in this manner.

I long ago gave up on American vehicles. To put it simply, it isn’t worth the money paid for it as they don’t last. Pay a 1/3 more for a Japanese vehicle you get twice the life in use. It doesn’t require multiple trips to the authorized service center to attempt to repair it. Like it or lump it, this is a good part of what happened to the automotive industry.

Items like “we will now track everywhere you go collecting information” won’t bring me back to buying but will more firmly convince me to never buy.

Congratulations on alienating your potential customer base. You’ve already lost one here for life, care to go for a nation’s worth?

mikey4001 (profile) says:

rotten timing

I am currently driving a 97 Chevy. Before that it was an 89 Oldsmobile, and before that another Chevy. By the end of next year I plan to be in a new car. It will not be anything (read: GM) with this crap attached to it. Congratulations for chasing away a life-long customer during the worst recession in two generations (and I am likely not alone). The amount of undiluted stupid oozing out of this marketing scheme is incredible.

I mean, seriously, this is your plan to sell cars? Spy on your customers and sell the details of their private lives? I hope you get good money for the info you collect, because you’re already in the hole for at least $25,000 or $30,000 because I am no longer planning to buy one of these.

Frost (profile) says:

Obvious end result

Tracking services will inevitably lead to abuses like this as long as it makes sense to abuse it. And it will make sense to abuse things this way as long as society clings to the profit motive and money – the abuse of tracking tech in this case can be easily converted to profit and be used by the government to track people.

This is problematic because said government is wholly controlled by the wealthy segment of society and they have a vested interest in containing any dissenters, peace activists and others who threaten their profit margins and work for more equitable resource allocation.

Of course, the same is true for crime and pollution and conspicuous consumption and any number of nasty behavior that all comes down to money in the end; as long as we cling to this failed societal design we will continue to be victimized by its functionality.

OnStar (user link) says:


Hi, I’m with the OnStar team. We’re seeing similar concerns from other channels, and I wanted to let everyone know that we value our customers? privacy and security and have never sold any personally identifiable information to any third party.

To be clear and transparent regarding our business practices we have put together the video below.


Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

I'd rather push a Ford...

I’ve always thought that anybody claiming “I’d rather push a Ford than drive a Chevy” was just being obnoxious, short-sighted and narrow-minded. I mean, really, they’re just freakin’ cars, fer cryin’ out loud. If you don’t like Chevrolet, fine, don’t buy one and get out of my face.

GM is doing a great job at changing my mind.

That said, I’d like to see somebody try to bring them to court on stalking charges….

P.S. “Friends don’t let friends drive Hondas.” πŸ˜‰

Anonymous Coward says:

Does it not strike anyone that the presence of someone claiming to be from OnStar here on this forum is a sign they realize they have stepped in deep doo-doo and are now trying desperately to do damage control with those who are changing their minds about just what buying a government motors vehicle will really mean to them during their lifetime?

Time and again, I’ve seen this reaction and after all the smoke clears, it has been a campaign to try and sell some idea or new notion that has hit some business that is particularly sneaky or nauseous. The same notion seems to fail to go over with the public as being so great.

If they are here at this forum, they are elsewhere at other forums, trying to turn the tide of public opinion before it gets locked down.

I will never buy a government motors product after this little escapade. Even if they claim to change their mind ‘due to public outcry’ have they really? Or have they just went underground with the practice while continuing on? As often as not, that is the reality that happens when some group says they change their mind.

This particular incident enforces the idea you can’t trust them.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Lawyers Delight

The Lawyers will have a field day.

Some guy cheats on his wife and the wife calls OnStar.

Some social reprehensible person commits heinous crimes that could have been prevented if OnStar disclosed the locational information. The newspapers will have a field day.

Someone installs a Ford product in a GM car. It immediately ceases to operate for some unknown reason.

Witness Protection says:

So where is the difference?

If you own and use a cell phone, credit card, or DVR – you’re already getting tracked and monitored, and your information is already being sold. If you have a facebook account or use a search engine your information is being tracked, monitored, and sold. How is having an onstar unit any different? You can at least opt-out and you are at least being told about how your data will/could be used.

Many companies will bury this info in their policies and make a point of bringing up they sell your info. As it has been more and more in the digital age, you can have convenience or you can have privacy, but you will always sell one for the other.

As an employee of onstar who happens to read techdirt often, I can tell you there is never an ALWAYS on connection with any vehicle, a call must always be placed from Onstar or by the Person in the vehicle. There are also things like a ring tone, that you hear in the vehicle or or phone icon you can see if we make any kind of voice call to the vehicle, you’ll know. Currently any information shared is with partners to provide services to the customer. Can’t make a call? we need to give the cell provider your cellular information, and maybe even location so they can check for an outage or other cellular issue. Need to know information about your vehicle, we might need to share your VIN with GM’s customer assistance center. Want to make an appointment at your local dealer to change your oil… we need to share info with the dealer. The list goes on.

Really the only difference between onstar and many other companies, is that they actually are putting the news out to let you know what our policies are and make your own choice to opt-out or not.

Darlene Thompson says:

On Star cancellation

cancelled on March 9, 2015 – they talked me into keeping them on hold until June 9, 2015 — I did, then I called and
asked if they had the fall down protection yet and they said no, but tried to sell me other things, I said no.

Low and behold they charged my credit card for $7.41 on June 11, 2015–called today, 6-29-15 and wanted them to reverse that charge, the gal just would not take no for an answer and when I told her who I had she hung up on me. It sounded like I wouldn’t get a credit back of the $7.41 — BUT if they need it that bad they can keep it, BUT be sure if I see it again on my charge card I will contest.

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