OnStar reverses controversial tracking policy

After heavy pressure, OnStar has reversed its policy on GPS tracking and says it will no longer track ex-subscribers to its navigation and support system.

The General Motors subsidiary recently emailed its customers telling them that, from December 1, data from customer vehicles would continue to be transmitted to OnStar after service was canceled, unless the customer specifically asked for it to be shut off.

The data would have included diagnostic error codes, odometer readings, crash information and data on seat belt use.

But customers – and senators too – objected that it was an invasion of privacy, and suggested that OnStar might sell the customer data to advertisers. Senator Charles Schumer called the move ‘brazen, almost unheard-of’.

OnStar, though, has denied this – although it does say that it would have used the data itself to help plan future services. It also says that it would have used it to warn former customers about natural disasters and product recalls affecting their car.

It seems that the objections came as something of a surprise to OnStar.

“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” says OnStar president Linda Marshall in a statement.

“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 six million customers.”

The company now plans to make the tracking opt-in.

Senator Al Franken, who opposed the tracking vigorously, says he’s delighted by the about turn.

“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,” he says.

“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.”