Is Watching You…
I have never
liked GMs OnStar system in part because I dont
like the idea of my car that I paid for having someone
elses black box recording (and transmitting)
data about how I drive, where I drive and even when I drive. I also
dont like that GM force-feeds OnStar to every buyer of every
GM car whether the buyer wants it or not.
I believe that
GMs long-term goal is to see to it that not only every GM
vehicle is equipped with a black box (technically, an
Event Data Recorder, or EDR) but that all vehicles are so
equipped and every single driver in the United States
possibly the world monitored whenever he or she is operating
a motor vehicle.
There is big
money in it: Automated tickets, jacked-up insurance fees for speeders
and seat belt scofflaws as well as marketing opportunities
for GMs partners, whom GM will provide all sorts
of juicy tidbits about your life to including where and when
you shop, so that they can target their advertising
And there is
the prospect of delicious (to power lusters) micromanaging control,
than The Law says you ought to and theyll know
about it, immediately, every single time you do it and exactly how
much you do it. Fail to Buckle Up For Safety even if its
just to drive down the driveway and theyll know
about it the moment you put the car in gear. It is entirely within
the realm of technical possibility that theyll even know exactly
what youve been talking about while in your car, too
because OnStar is very much like a Telescreen from Orwells
1984. If you have an OnStar-equipped car, you have GMs microphones
in your car. And GM can turn them on anytime it likes and
record anything you say.
No, I am not
new cars each week to review them for my weekly car column. Part
of my test drive includes running the car at a good clip up
the mountain a series of S turns that takes you up
about 1,600 feet in elevation over the course of about two miles.
One week not too long ago I was testing a GM vehicle. I took it
up the mountain at a good clip faster than the posted speed
limit, to be sure. This apparently alarmed OnStar because as I reached
the final curve and straightened the car out, all of a sudden the
stereo cut out and a loud female voice replaced Van Halen: Are
you in need of EMS? This startled me for a moment. Then I
realized what had happened. The creepy OnStar unit was triggered
by my speed (and the rapid change in altitude). It assumed I had
wrecked the car- even though I promise all four wheels never left
the pavement and were entirely under my control at all times. And
it decided I needed help. I didnt, so thanked
the operator for her concern but noted to myself that here was proof
positive that OnStar is Watching You.
ask to be watched. I dont want to be watched. But the vehicular
voyeurs at OnStar arent interested in what I want. Or what
this was a press car GMs car so you may
say (rightly) that GM has every right to monitor me when I am in
their car. But what about when the car is your car? And when
you dont want OnStar Watching You? Shouldnt you have
the right to say No Thanks?
Now comes evidence
in the form of OnStars latest Terms
of Service that my instinctive paranoia was well-founded
about where all this is going.
The TOS announces
that OnStar that is, General Motors will henceforth
collect data about your driving habits
for any purpose,
at any time
. Previously, OnStar only kept track
of data relevant to an accident, in the event of an accident.
Now it will
keep track of everything, all the time.
The TOS attempts
to soothe the immediately obvious concerns any half-awake person
might have after reading the above by going on to state that
following collection of such location and speed information identifiable
to your Vehicle, it is shared only on an anonymized basis.
course, that such data is essentially useless when anonymized. The
system knows and records where the car is parked, where it is driven,
when and how fast and if it doesnt keep track of all those
things specifically and not so anonymously, well, then of
what use is the information? And besides, are we supposed to just
trust GM that it will anonymize our personal data?
Zdziarski notes: If your vehicle is consistently parked at
your home, driving down your driveway, or taking a left or right
turn onto your street, its pretty obvious that this is where you
live! Its like trying to say that someones Google Map
lookup from their home is anonymized because it doesnt
have their name on it. It still shows where they live! Whats
unique even more-so to OnStar is that the data they claim they sell
as part of their business model is useless unless its specific;
that is, not diluted to the nearest 10 mile radius, etc. This combination
of analytics, and their prospective customers (law enforcement,
marketers, etc) requires the data be disturbingly precise. Anyone
armed with Google can easily do a phone book or public records search
to find the name and address that resides at any given GPS coordinate.
Anonymized GPS data? Theres no such thing!
And to whom
will the data be provided? TOS says public safety or traffic
services. Translation: Insurance cartels and cops the
Tweedledee and Tweedledums of modern Motorist Mulcting.
GM also will
share details about your personal life with its partners
in order to
allow us, and our affiliates, your Vehicle
Maker, and Vehicle dealers, to offer you new or additional products
or services; and for other purposes.
your consent indeed, against your express wishes.
say no to OnStar unless you say no to GM, period and
dont buy a GM vehicle. If your GM vehicle has Onstar, the
TOS explicitly states that it will continue to record and collect
your data even after you cancel your service. The only way to be
sure Onstar isnt watching you is to physically disable the
system on your own by cutting wires or just smashing the
GM says it
comply with all laws regarding notifying you and
obtaining your consent before we collect, use or share information
about you or your Vehicle in any other way than has been described
in this privacy statement.
But the privacy
statement specifically says theyll collect and share your
info however they damn well please! What possible other
way might they use or share your information? Theyve
already exhausted pretty much every possibility its
all right there in the TOS!
must have been reincarnated as a lawyer for GM!
The worst part,
though, is not the insolence of GM. It is the indifference of the
public. I doubt most GM vehicle owners will even bother to read
the latest TOS and the few that do either wont comprehend
or care what about whats been put on the table. Latter-day
Ahhhhhhmerikuns just love their gadgets and besides, its
all about keeping us safe, isnt it?
As for me,
Ill continue to drive my OnStar (and air-bag) free old car
for as long as Im allowed to unmonitored, unrecorded.
wont be for very much longer.
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
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