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Unless you specifically cancel the 2-way communication aspect, the default setting will be to continue a communication link to OnStar once the subscription expires, raising the ire of customers who wonder what the company does with the data. OnStar says that data is anonymized, but customers fear data showing current vehicle location doesn’t seem very anonymous, sparking fears of the potential for abuse. After all, there’s a unique identifier for each vehicle reporting, and that vehicle would have a very specific location tied to the individual driving it at the time.
Joanne Finnor, vice president of subscriber services, said keeping the two-way communication active for former customers could someday allow for emergency messages to be sent even to ex-customers about severe weather or evacuations. The open line could also allow OnStar to alert drivers about warranty information or recalls, she said.
Starting December 1, the new terms and conditions for the service say that unless customers specifically cancel, information may still be collected. OnStar has said no driving data of customers has been shared or sold. Concerns over the newly revised policies center around the language allowing OnStar to reserves the right to share or sell data on customers’ speed, location, use of seat belts and other practices.
Privacy wonks have complained loudly enough to garner attention from several U.S. Senators, including Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who are now tapping the FTC to investigate the policy. Concerns mostly center on the open-end language in the updated agreement, raising questions about the motives of whoever may be paying the expense required to keep the data systems running, if the customers no longer do.
Customer data gathered during accident investigations have already been a popular topic among mobile phone customers, especially those who “swear they weren’t talking on the phone” when they were involved in an accident. The OnStar system records things like vehicle speed and seat-belt usage, which are also data points of interest in the event of an accident, certainly they would be valuable data in determining certain aspects of who’s at fault. Those are certainly topics raised very early in the process of an insurance claim, and not always ones customers are anxious to have recorded.
Regardless, there’s an expense to be absorbed by OnStar to gather, organize and store the data in meaningful ways. This expense is normally offset by the subscription cost. Customers wonder who will continue to bear the expense, as it’s not easy to find a company who does this sort of thing out of the kindness of their heart.
Author Cameron Camp, ESET