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Got GPS? No Privacy for You

Posted on by Townsend Myers

Photo by Pat Williams

UPDATE 9/30/11: OnStar backtracks on GPS tracking: Late breaking news is that OnStar has reversed its policy! Too much bad press this week, it seems. That’s the power of social media! Read here for more:

Senator Chuck Schumer wants to open an investigation into OnStar’s new privacy policy because it appears the Hotel California is not the only place that doesn’t allow you to leave when you want.

Why the call for an investigation of an onboard navigation and emergency services company? OnStar recently informed their customers about their new privacy policy that allows them to gather and sell information about their customers to any interested third party, information that would include, among other things, a vehicle’s location. This new policy would also allow OnStar to continue monitoring and sell the information from customers after they’ve canceled the service.

In their defense, OnStar says they don’t sell the GPS gathered information at this time — they just want you to know they reserve this right. They also stated they will not track former customers who contact them and ask them not to. That leaves only the six million customers they currently service and any former customer who may have deleted any email they may have received from a company they believe they’ve cut ties with.

OnStar continued to explain their reasoning for keeping this connection by giving a few scenarios using some of my favorite qualifiers: “Connection may provide us with the capability to alert vehicle occupants about severe weather conditions such as tornado warnings or mandatory evacuations…” and “…could be to provide vehicle owners with any updated warranty data or recall issues.”

Schumer touched on several points concerning privacy when he sent a letter to OnStar that included the line of thought that  “reasonable consumer would assume that when they terminate a service, they will no longer be monitored by the service provider.”

Privacy is the fulcrum point of some of the most contentious issues of our times and will remain that way in the future. In this new electronic age, privacy has continued to be a sticky subject due to the profitability of personal information. Companies like OnStar argue that once in a business setting there is no such thing as personal information, yet even if you are a customer they probably won’t let you go through their records without a warrant. They also maintain we trust them to do what is best, something the trustworthy never seem to have to do.

Or as writer David Brin put it, “When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish installing this compass in my car.



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