OnStar Reverses Privacy Changes After Public Outcry

GM's subsidiary OnStar has reneged on highly controversial privacy changes it announced last week after enormous resistance and threats of a congressional investigation. On September 21, OnStar announced several changes to its terms of service.

The company stated it would now track the position, speed, diagnostic error codes, seatbelt usage data, and crash information of all vehicles, even if drivers didn't have an active subscription. The company also reserved the right to sell the GPS data it gathered, though it claimed no personal information would be attached.

Adam Denison, a GM spokesperson, justified the change by claiming it made it easier for cusomers to re-enroll in the service and gave GM a way to contact people in the event of a recall or consumer hazard. Phone numbers, mailing addresses, and email information evidently weren't good enough. GM customers could opt out of the tracking, but had to specifically choose to do so.

Batman would not approve.

The announcement sparked a wave of protests, multiple letters to the company from Congressmen, and calls for an investigation into whether or not the service's new terms were a violation of one's right to privacy. GM has since backed down. OnStar President Linda Marshall stated: "We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers. This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers' hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our more than 6 million customers."

Marshall's characterization of the amendments as "proposed" is a disingenuous attempt to cast the company's initial decision as some form of debate. OnStar didn't send out a letter asking its customers what they thought of something, it notified them it would begin selling their information in a manner the majority found unacceptable. Meyer claimed that the privacy terms would've helped GM plan future services, but again, this isn't a company that lacked for methods to get in touch with its customers.

Senators who'd previously decried the company's decision praised the reversal. "OnStar did the right thing today, and I'm glad that so many consumers now won't have to worry about their location information being shared without their consent," said Senator Al Franken. "While I'm pleased that OnStar reversed its policy, I still have questions about how that company and others are treating consumers' location information."

Franken has backed the Location Privacy Protection Act, which would require companies to obtain permission from their customers before collecting or sharing GPS data. "Consumers have a right to know what data is being collected about them and have a right to decide whether they want to share that information and when," the senator said.