Thursday, September 22, 2011

Snooping On YOU In Your Car?

Snooping On YOU In Your Car?
A Commentary BY J. D. LONGSTREET

Back several years ago, when I learned of the black boxes some American automakers were installing on their cars, I was so disturbed by it that I immediately contacted my dealership and asked, flat-out, if there was a black box on my truck.  They claimed not to know, which seemed sorta strange to me, so – I contacted the manufacturer directly, gave them the VIN number of my vehicle and asked them if there was a black box on my truck.  Soon afterwards the manufacturer assured me that there was NOT a black box on my vehicle.  It happened that mine was one of the models without it.

I had already asked my dealership if they would disconnect it, or would it be left to me to disconnect it myself.  I pointed out that if there were, indeed, a black box on my vehicle, it WOULD be disconnected one way or the other. Fortunately, it did not come to that.

Now comes news of another information gathering device on American cars manufactured reportedly by General Motors, known derisively these days as “Government Motors.” 

The claim is that GM’s Onstar system, a subscription service, is collecting data about your car including GPS info, speed, location, seat belt usage, and other information. OnStar says that it has the right to collect and sell personal, yet supposedly anonymous information on your vehicle.
There is an excellent article on this very thing entitled: “GM's OnStar now spying on your car for profit even after you unsubscribe? [UPDATE]”

The article, written by Zach Bowman, can be found at  In the article Mr. Bowman says:  “If you're the owner of a fairly new General Motors product, you may want to take a close look at the most recent OnStar terms and conditions. As it turns out, the company has altered the parameters under which it can legally collect GPS data on your vehicle.

Mr. Bowman goes on to say:  “Originally, the terms and conditions stated that OnStar could only collect information on your vehicle's location during a theft recovery or in the midst of sending emergency services your way. That has apparently changed. Now, OnStar says that it has the right to collect and sell personal, yet supposedly anonymous information on your vehicle, including speed, location, seat belt usage, and other information.

Then Mr. Bowman suggests the most troubling aspect of the new OnStar capability.  He says:  “Perhaps the most startling news to come out of the latest OnStar terms and conditions is the fact that the company can continue to collect the information even after you disconnect the service. (Emphasis ours.) If you want the info to be cut off all together, you'll have to specifically shut down the vehicle's data connection.

You can take a look at the wording of the new policy here(You may read the entire article by Zack Bowmen HERE.

OK.  So the OnStar folks got out a press release ASAP to explain their side of the story. Below is that press release:

New Terms & Conditions

The following statement can be attributed to Joanne Finnorn, Vice President, Subscriber Services

"OnStar has and always will give our customers the choice in how we use their data. We've also been very open with our customers about changes in services and privacy terms.

"Under our new Terms and Conditions, when a customer cancels service, we have informed customers that OnStar will maintain a two-way connection to their vehicle unless they ask us not to do so. In the future, this connection may provide us with the capability to alert vehicle occupants about severe weather conditions such as tornado warnings or mandatory evacuations. Another benefit for keeping this connection "open" could be to provide vehicle owners with any updated warranty data or recall issues.

"Of course, if the customer requests us to turn off the two-way connection, we will do as we have always done, and that is honor customers' requests.

"Our guiding practices regarding sharing our subscribers' personal information have not changed. We are always very specific about with whom we share customers' personal information, and how they will use it. We have never sold any personally identifiable information to any third party.

"Keeping the two-way connection open will also allow OnStar to capture general vehicle information that could be used in future product development.

"We apologize for creating any confusion about our Terms and Conditions. We want to make sure we are as clear with our customers as possible, but it's apparent that we have failed to do this. As always, we are listening to our subscribers' feedback and we will continue to be open to their suggestions and concerns."

Call me paranoid, if you wish, but I tell you now that if the next car I consider purchasing has any sort of intelligence collection device onboard it, no matter who the manufacturer and no matter if the device is disconnected or otherwise, I will not purchase that vehicle.

In my opinion, collecting the information as described in Mr. Bowman’s article is an invasion of my privacy and I will not knowing allow it to happen on my property whether it is my home my office, my auto, or my electronic devices.

In an age when everyone knows everything about everybody I realize I am an anachronism. But – if you want that information from me, go to a judge, and convince him to issue a warrant and THEN come ask me.  Don’t expect me not to be riled when that an electronic device on my property can harvest that information even I express my desire to NOT allow access to it.  What I do, when and where I do it, and at what speed I choose to do it, is nobody’s business but mine. And I reserve that right!

J. D. Longstreet

No comments: