September 26, 2011
Schumer, Senate Colleagues Accuse OnStar of Privacy Violations
On Sunday, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer became the third lawmaker to protest a recent change to OnStar's terms of service that allows the automotive communication service to continue tracking a driver's speed and location, even if they have cancelled their subscription to the service.
According to Michael Gormley of the Associated Press (AP), Schumer has called the practice "one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory." He joins Senate colleagues Chris Coons of Delaware and Al Franken of Minnesota in voicing their displeasure over the General Motors' subscription-based GPS, navigation, and diagnostics service.
Furthermore, Gormley claims that OnStar "reserves the right to share or sell data on customers' speed, location, use of seat belts and other practices," though a company spokesperson told the AP that they have not done so and have no plans to do so in the future. They also argue that customers have been notified of the changes in policy and are free to opt-out at any time.
"We apologize for creating any confusion about our terms and conditions," Joanne Finnor, vice president of subscriber services, told Gormley. "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. We will continue to be open to their suggestions and concerns."
David Murphy of PCMag.com reports that OnStar can use their data connection to "help alert car drivers about severe weather, as well as any warranty or recall issues. It also could be used by OnStar for 'quality, research, or troubleshooting purposes,' or in a more generalized fashion: 'Any purpose, at any time, provided that following collection of such location and speed information identifiable to your Vehicle, it is shared only on an anonymized basis.'"
That data can be shared with law enforcement and public safety officials, credit card processors, and "third parties we contract with who conduct joint marketing initiatives with OnStar," he adds.
According to David Shepardson of Detroit News, Schumer sent an open letter to Linda Marshall, the president of OnStar, calling on the company to reverse the decision. He has also appealed to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the matter.
Shepardson also notes that Franken has introduced legislation known as the Location Privacy Protection Act, which has been backed by Coons and Senators Richard Blumenthal, Dick Durbin, Robert Menendez, and Bernie Sanders, "which would require companies like OnStar to obtain their customers' explicit permission before tracking their location information or sharing that information with third parties."
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