Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

The OnStar system in many cars isn’t just for remote assistance and lost car tracking: the location data is invaluable for data brokers, insurance companies, and other entities. General Motors now says it won’t sell OnStar data.

OnStar is a subscription-based service from General Motors available in many cars, connecting cars to mobile networks to provide GPS navigation, hands-free calling, remote start, and other similar features. It’s most often found in General Motors’ own models, under brands like Chevy, GM, Cadillac, and GMC. It’s also licensed to cars sold by Acura, Audi, Isuzu, Subaru, and Volkswagen, to name a few.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that GM was selling OnStar usage information to data broker firms, usually without the drivers’ knowledge. That data was then purchased by insurance companies, leading to higher rates for some car owners. Following the report, a complaint seeking class-action status against GM, OnStar, and LexisNexis (one of the data brokers) was filed by one driver in Florida, who claims his insurance rates doubled due to data collected and sold from his Cadillac car.

The initial report and possible legal action has made General Motors reconsider the practice, and the company told The New York Times that it has stopped selling OnStar data. The company said in a statement, “OnStar Smart Driver customer data is no longer being shared with LexisNexis or Verisk. Customer trust is a priority for us, and we are actively evaluating our privacy processes and policies.”

It’s certainly great that the data collection has ended, but without robust data privacy laws in the United States, there’s nothing stopping GM or other car manufacturers from doing it again in the future. This also won’t erase the data that was already collected and sold, or reverse higher insurance premiums for affected drivers. Modern cars are a potential goldmine of personal information, especially with location tracking.

Mozilla called attention to data privacy problems in a 2023 report. The company said at the time, “popular global brands — including BMW, Ford, Toyota, Tesla, Kia, and Subaru — can collect deeply personal data such as sexual activity, immigration status, race, facial expressions, weight, health and genetic information, and where you drive. Researchers found data is being gathered by sensors, microphones, cameras, and the phones and devices drivers connect to their cars, as well as by car apps, company websites, dealerships, and vehicle telematics.”

Here’s hoping the United States eventually passes laws to prevent this type of invasive data collection and sale, but that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. The real threat to our digital privacy is TikTok, apparently.

Source: The New York Times

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By John P.

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