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OnStar may start selling data collected from cars

September 21, 2011 |  5:46 pm

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OnStar Corp., the General Motors communication service for drivers, may soon start selling customer data to other companies.

In emails sent to customers, OnStar detailed changes to its privacy statement that go into effect in December. Under the revised policy, the company may start collecting data from any vehicle equipped with an OnStar device and could share that information with credit card processors, law enforcement and others.

"We may share or sell anonymized data (including location, speed, and safety belt usage) with third parties for any purpose, which may prove useful for such things as research relating to public safety or traffic services," the privacy statement said.

OnStar devices can track a stolen vehicle, give drivers step-by-step directions, call an ambulance and even unlock your car. The devices were previously exclusive to General Motors vehicles until this July, when OnStar began offering rearview mirrors that can be installed in non-GM cars.

The changes provoked criticism from some OnStar users, many of whom complained that the company buried the revisions inside a lengthy policy that most subscribers would never read.

"I canceled the OnStar subscription on my new GMC vehicle today after receiving an email from the company about their new terms and conditions," wrote scientist and blogger Jonathan Zdziarski in a post. "Anonymized GPS data? There's no such thing!"

OnStar devices have the ability to collect not only GPS data, but also vehicle information such as fuel economy, odometer readings, how often the gas tank is filled up, when the seat belt is worn and when the ignition is on.

The new policy states that OnStar can gather location information "at any time," but will share that and other data only "on an anonymized basis."

And according to the new policy, data will continue to be collected from a vehicle even if the owner no longer pays for an OnStar subscription. Car owners can stop the data gathering only by deactivating the device's data connection.

"It is important that you convey this to other drivers, occupants, or subsequent owners of your Vehicle," the policy advised.

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-- Shan Li

Photo: A Saab equipped with GM's OnStar system. Credit: Alexander Gallardo / Los Angeles Times

 

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