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Senator Goes After 'Brazen' OnStar Privacy Shift 185

Posted by Soulskill
from the be-careful-they-know-your-tire-pressure dept.
coondoggie writes "U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission to get the agency to investigate recent changes navigation and emergency services company OnStar made to its privacy practices. Schumer said, 'By tracking drivers even after they’ve cancelled their service, OnStar is attempting one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory. I urge OnStar to abandon this policy and for FTC to immediately launch a full investigation to determine whether the company’s actions constitute an unfair trade practice.'"
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Senator Goes After 'Brazen' OnStar Privacy Shift

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  • I wonder if this is one of those "Oh, shit, not in my backyard!" type of reflex actions. Perhaps the Senator actually has one of those disabled services?

    Whatever the cause for the Senator's huff and puff, at least it is good huffing and puffing.

    • by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Monday September 26, 2011 @07:46PM (#37521636)
      Don't worry, some kind soul representing GM/OnStar will explain it all to him. He'll take a nice long vacation in the Bahamas with his secretary and never press the issue again.
      • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:09PM (#37521782)

        He'll take a nice long vacation in the Bahamas with his secretary and never press the issue again.

        You accuse someone you most likely know little about of committing future crimes and cheating on his wife of 30 years with no evidence whatsoever. If you would not want the government to do the same to you, maybe you could find it in your character to walk back those accusations.

        • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:22PM (#37521882)

          If you would not want the government to do the same to you, maybe you could find it in your character to walk back those accusations.

          Yeah, because if the time ever comes when members of the government might want to publicly smear a private citizen they will certain back off once they check his record and see that he's always been extremely respectful of those elected to office.

          • You missed my point. I restated the golden rule: treat others as you would have them treat you. It's not about getting something out of it (preferential treatment by the government), it's about doing the right thing.
            • You missed my point. I restated the golden rule: treat others as you would have them treat you. It's not about getting something out of it (preferential treatment by the government), it's about doing the right thing.

              Apparently it's been a while since you last visited Slashdot.

            • by Thing 1 (178996)

              You missed my point. I restated the golden rule: treat others as you would have them treat you. It's not about getting something out of it (preferential treatment by the government), it's about doing the right thing.

              So, how do you reconcile your response with the ages-old Q/A, "How can you tell when a politician is lying?" "His lips are moving." ???

            • by Amouth (879122)

              and how long must you turn the other cheek? at what point do you stop and point out the errors of others?

            • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:24PM (#37522590)

              You missed my point. I restated the golden rule: treat others as you would have them treat you. It's not about getting something out of it (preferential treatment by the government), it's about doing the right thing.

              When the senator voluntarily joined a group with a long and storied history of abusing the golden rule not only did he invalidate any claim to it, he practically asked to end up on the wrong end of it.

              In particular, his past issues [weeklystandard.com] regarding personal privacy of political opponents suggests the criticism is not baseless. You may not like the hyperbole used to express that skepticism, but that's your problem. A pol who would take that personally would be to thin skinned to ever get elected in the first place.

        • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:55PM (#37522422) Homepage Journal

          As a scientist, I try not to make judgements except as indicated by evidence.

          However, human beings have evolved to notice patterns and make inferences.

          It doesn't matter whether a pattern holds true in all cases, it only matters whether it's more *likely* to be true as it influences my next decision.

          Thus it may not be true that all crows are black, but this is not the important point. What matters is whether the *next* crow I see will be black, given all the crows that I have seen so far. I'll take that bet, because the likelihood is there.

          I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether an average politician being motivated by their own interests is the better bet.

          (Hint: set it up as a game-theoretic problem, given that almost all elections are won by the candidate that spends the most money [which is empirically true]. Alternately, look at the voting history of the politician in question and see if you can determine the % which were in the public interest.)

          • http://characters.wikia.com/wiki/Crow_T._Robot [wikia.com]

            Hah! You lose. Pay up, sucker!

          • I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether an average politician being motivated by their own interests is the better bet.

            It's possible to be skeptical of a politician's motive without accusing him of crimes and infidelity to his wife. If you want patterns, the story of politicians reflects the general population: the majority are law abiding and faithful to their spouses. Neither patterns or evidence support the (tongue in cheek) claims of the original poster.

            What motivates me in this thread is avoiding the destructive, lazy and incorrect "government is populated exclusively by immoral criminal scum" cop out. It fixes nothing

            • Assertion 1: Elections are won by the candidate who spends the most money

              I can't prove this logically, only empirically. A PEW study of large number of elections found that over 90% were won by the candidate who spent the most money. Of the remaining 10%, the majority self-destructed by political scandal. The general rule holds very well: the candidate who spends the most money (and doesn't get caught in a scandal) will win the election. Lots of corroboration on the net, such as:

              http://www.opensecrets.org/n [opensecrets.org]

          • While pattern recognition is important it also useful to know patterns are not a rule. Is there a face on Mars? Does my toast/potato chip look like a saint/president?. The real questions is 'Do you support this action or not?'
          • by cayenne8 (626475)

            However, human beings have evolved to notice patterns and make inferences.

            It doesn't matter whether a pattern holds true in all cases, it only matters whether it's more *likely* to be true as it influences my next decision.

            Hence, stereotypes....and why, despite many people hating them or disputing them....simply need to face the facts that many if not most of them are based somewhat in fact. They didn't come from no-where....

        • When funny is the obvious choice.
    • by artor3 (1344997) on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:15PM (#37521822)

      Schumer is one of the few good senators who regularly goes after corporations when they abuse us lower lifeforms. Not that I think he's necessarily more moral than his colleagues, he's just in a position where it's easy for him to act on that sense of morality. When you routinely win your elections by 30+ point margins, you don't need to worry so much about pissing off potential corporate donors.

    • a camera.

      And amusing to see him trying to scuttle what is likely the sole thing Government Motors is doing that is profitable. Throw in the UAW getting a big fat handout and CAFE standards, and Bailout 2.0 can't be far away.

      Oh well, at least they might stop tracking me in my new Corvette...
  • by houstonbofh (602064) on Monday September 26, 2011 @07:40PM (#37521592)
    There is a booming industry in removing the GPS and other OnStar components fro GM vehicles. Sure, most of it is for less than legal reasons, but still... More jobs!
    • There is a booming industry in removing the GPS and other OnStar components fro GM vehicles. Sure, most of it is for less than legal reasons, but still... More jobs!

      Read what you posted again. Tell me one illegal reason to remove a leaky location tracking device.

      The only reason I can think of is: I don't want anyone to know where I am/track me without my knowledge.

      There is nothing illegal about that.

      • by skine (1524819)

        You're misunderstanding GP.

        He isn't saying that people are removing GPS and other OnStar components illegally; rather, he's saying that they're removing the components because they wish to do illegal things.

        For example, one might wish "part ways" with his "former colleague" by "taking a trip" to the Pine Barrens, for which he may wish some privacy.

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        It is illegal if you don't own the vehicle in question. SatNav theft from vehicles is a bit of a problem in some areas of the country.

      • by xclr8r (658786)
        He is stating that the reasons that are motivating the removal are illegal (i.e. drug/people trafficking, black market weapons trade.. etc.). He is not stating that removing the device or wanting to remove the device is illegal.
        • This was my thought... But I love the others from the slashdot audience. Stolen car, and stolen radio are two I would not have thought of.
  • I know it's stating the obvious, but is it more brazen than planting a device without your knowledge and NOT calling it an invasion of privacy?

    • by reboot246 (623534)
      Yeah, I wish old Chuckie was as outraged about the GPS tracking as he is about this.

      It's good to see somebody willing to check into it, but I doubt much will be done. After all, it is "Government Motors" doing it.
      • by Cwix (1671282)

        No, its OnStar you ass.

        Place the blame where it belongs.

        • by grahamd0 (1129971) on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:16PM (#37521830)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OnStar

          First sentence: "OnStar Corporation is a subsidiary of General Motors Which is owned 27% by the U.S. government and 12% by the Canadian government."

          You are entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts.

          Indeed.

          • by Kozz (7764)

            Interesting. The percentage was added to the wikipedia article TODAY. Where do those numbers come from? Thought you might want to know.

          • by Cwix (1671282)

            I retract my statement, I did not know that onstar belonged to GM.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Right and for better or for worse, those are non-voting shares so the US Government has about as much say in what goes on at GM as I do as a random member of the public. I take it you don't recall the uproar when it was suggested that some of the corporations getting bailed out should be required to fire their executives as a condition of acceptance.

            • by grahamd0 (1129971)

              The previous poster had claimed that the poster he was replying to was an ass for placing the blame on GM. I was highlighting that OnStar *is* GM.

              I object to the socializing private losses with public money, but that wasn't the point of my post.

            • Right and for better or for worse, those are non-voting shares so the US Government has about as much say in what goes on at GM as I do as a random member of the public.

              HA HA HA HA HO HE HA HO HE HA HO HA HA HA HA!!!!

              As much say? I don't remember having the power to fire the CEO [politicsdaily.com]

              And I don't think that having the head of GM assigned to lead the government as an economic advisor on creating jobs(!) [huffingtonpost.com] is exactly the kind of hands-off model you are proposing.

              Not to mention that as part of getting that money, GM

              • by riverat1 (1048260)

                Reading fail! The economic adviser you're referring to is the head of GE (General Electric), not GM.

            • Right and for better or for worse, those are non-voting shares so the US Government has about as much say in what goes on at GM as I do as a random member of the public. I take it you don't recall the uproar when it was suggested that some of the corporations getting bailed out should be required to fire their executives as a condition of acceptance.

              I have two words Chevy Volt. GM execs knew it would flop mostly because electric cars are n+1 cars yet their decision to produce it was influenced by an outside source.

      • by TWX (665546)

        Funny, you make it sound like the Federal Government is one big monolithic entity that always works with single mindedness...

    • You don't know the history of OnStar.

      Not only OnStar turns on the onboard Microphone without your knowledge for months at a time so that the FBI can listen in, but it also disables its emergency channel so that no one answers your call for help and no one comes to your rescue when the FBI is listening in (or is recording) in your car.

      Thankfully, they lost a big civil lawsuit over this.

      This is the main reason the cars with old OnStar technology (with only one channel of communication instead of two) can stil

  • Sure he did... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PrimeNumber (136578) <PrimeNumber@eUUU ... inus threevowels> on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:06PM (#37521766) Homepage

    Because two North American governments are major share holders [wikipedia.org] of this company, I am sure that tracking operations will immediately cease, because we all know governments hate doing shit like that.

  • I love the outraged reactions of senators out for a cheap shot against a non-campaign-contributor, after having been so silent on so many more egregious cases.

    RICO should apply ^^

  • by Fnord666 (889225)
    On the other hand maybe they can sell the data to the GPS companies and we can finally get some updated maps. There are roads around my area that had major routing changes three years ago that are still wrong on my Garmin.
    • I literally live a block away from Garmin's headquarters and I can see their building from my front yard. The intersection in the opposite direction doesn't show up as well as many of the residential roads in the area. And, these were all built 25 years ago. Garmin licenses that information from a 3rd party from what I understand.

      • I have never understood this given that the federal TIGER and a number of state data sets are free for any and all to use. The federal one seems to be about 10 years out of date but the state ones are updated more frequently. I have gone all over Minnesota with maps I made from the data provided by MNDOT and the MN DNR and they have been wonderfully accurate and include very minor roads and other features, but yet the map set that came with my new handheld GPS is missing streets in my neighborhood (it was a
    • This is the main reason I like Telenav / Sprint Navigation on my cell phone. The maps are periodically updated, and I don't have to get a windows computer, a cable that didn't come with the unit, and a yearly upgrade that costs 3/4 of the price of just buying a new unit to begin with. A Garmin recalculates a little faster, but my phone's not brand new and I don't make that many wrong turns anyway. :)

    • by Sique (173459)

      You can use the OpenStreetMap data on your garmin, which are quite up-to-date (e.g. the road that was moved and upgraded to four lanes in my neighbourhood showed up about the time of the opening in OSM).

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:43PM (#37522012) Homepage
    If you cancel a service, they have zero rights to any information about you.

    On-star has no more rights to the location of ex-customers than Texaco does.

    Citizens should not be required to rip out the electronics to prevent a previous business partner from illegally spying on them.

    In fact a good case can be made to legally require all corporations you cease doing business with to destroy all OLD records about you, with exceptions for records of transactions you engaged in. (see my blog entree from June [blogspot.com] for more information

    • by MachDelta (704883)

      What's really going to fuck with your head is when you realize that OnStar is *always* on, weather or not you have (ever had) a subscription. Just hit the button twice for an operator.

      • What's really going to fuck with your head is when you realize that OnStar is *always* on, weather or not you have (ever had) a subscription. Just hit the button twice for an operator.

        Uhm...it's probably "always available" more than "always on". But I agree with you, it's likely that they've been collecting data all this time...it's only just now that they're us now.

    • Citizens should not be required to rip out the electronics to prevent a previous business partner from illegally spying on them.

      Just pull the fuse. I verified, at least in 2005, that this really disabled the OnStar systems (it would be possible to install a fake fuse but they didn't).

      And they said I was paranoid for doing so...

  • I own a 2003 GM vehicle and I know f that the previous owner upgraded the OnStar system when they changed over from analog to digital. I've often wondered about how this works and if they can still track the car. Even knowing they are, I'm not sure I really care. I guess on a theoretical level it's annoying, But I have too many other things to worry about to get worked up over this. Actually, I've wondered if there is some kind of liability for them if they are still tracking my car w/o their service. If I

    • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:5, Interesting)

      by inject_hotmail.com (843637) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:21PM (#37522566)

      ...Even knowing they are, I'm not sure I really care. I guess on a theoretical level it's annoying, But I have too many other things to worry about to get worked up over this....

      Congratulations...you're apathy is deep enough to drown in. Not only that, but this is precisely why these companies a) do this, and b) get away with this.

      • ...Even knowing they are, I'm not sure I really care. I guess on a theoretical level it's annoying, But I have too many other things to worry about to get worked up over this....

        Congratulations...you're apathy is deep enough to drown in. Not only that, but this is precisely why these companies a) do this, and b) get away with this.

        While on one hand I totally agree with you, I also don't really want to live in a uni-bomber style shack/lifestyle. Frankly you are either too young/naive and are sponging off of your parents or are talking out of your ass. There is no way in hell you can be a productive well adjusted member of society (not that I'm sure this is that great of a thing, but I digress)and truly be fighting all of the injustices in the world. OnStar knowing exactly where I am in my car is an annoyance at best, but is still pret

        • I wish I could impart upon you the reality that exists beyond corporate sponsored media. "I want to enforce my right to privacy" does not equal "I am a terrorist" for god's sake! I am neither young or old. I am, also, far from the support of any other on this planet. Attempting to defame my character in an attempt to divert your argument proves your complete lack of intellectual articulation.

          You don't even understand that your lack of attention to such things is by design. Consider that...and if you
    • by jonbryce (703250)

      No because
      1) Being stationary in a particular location for a long time doesn't always mean your vehicle is in trouble
      2) While they collect the information, they almost certainly don't monitor it in real time

      Anyway, you may not care about OneStar having the information, but what if a burglar hacks into the system and uses the information to find people who are out of state.

      • but what if a burglar hacks into the system and uses the information to find people who are out of state.

        Sounds like a lot of trouble when you could just have a peek through the letterbox to see how much post has built up, or just wander past the house in the evening a couple of times to see if any lights are on.

      • by omnichad (1198475)

        I'm fairly certain that OnStar is connected to the airbag deployment system and so on.

  • Nice service youse got there... It'd be a shame if anything bad should happen to it. It's a dangerous place, Detroit. Now, if I were you, and I'm just sayin' mind you, that a nice contribution to the folks that helped bail youse guys out might go a long way towards protectin' your service there.

    And, don't think I'm showing bias or false equivalency because I'm picking on the Democrat here - the Republicans would do the same thing, but end up with twice as big a payoff, because they're "better" politicians.

    I

  • by Dr_Ish (639005) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:34PM (#37522658) Homepage
    The solution here is simple: Send OnStar a contract saying that you charge a fee of $10.00 per day for the information that they collect. Make the contract come into force after 30 days, if they do not respond to negotiate. Make sure the contract is sent registered mail to their registered agent in your state. Wait 30 days and send them a bill, again via registered mail. Wait a while longer and then file a claim in small claims court. I bet that would get their attention. My misses has OnStar on her car, which we do not use, so I will be doing this. Although IANAL, I am just a bastard!
    • Although IANAL, I am just a bastard!

      YANAL, indeed.

      You can't form a contract by simply sending someone a unilateral set of terms and relying on their silence to confirm their assent to it.

      • by dkf (304284)

        You can't form a contract by simply sending someone a unilateral set of terms and relying on their silence to confirm their assent to it.

        You can in some jurisdictions, but it does depend on the exact set of terms proposed. In particular, the person receiving the document can't be forced to take any action by such one-way contracts because they have not agreed to anything (so the contract terms would have to say "If you - the receiver - do A, then I will do B." so that the acceptance is still clearly signaled.) Remember, contracts are fundamentally agreements and you can't have an agreement without all parties actually agreeing.

        Not that I'm a

    • by DynamoJoe (879038)
      It's a good idea but to send the bill you'd have to prove they gathered the information about you before you sent the bill. Unless you have access to the logs or can audit the hardware sufficiently to prove to six people (who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty) that OnStar tracked you, your lawsuit will fail.
  • I just shot an email over to Toyota, to see what, if any, policies they have in place similar to that of OnStar. Their service, Entune, is available in almost all of their vehicles, from Toyota to Lexus, so I figured it may be applicable/helpful.

    Will post a followup for anyone interested.

  • Doesn't OnStar use the cellular network to communicate information back to the "mother-ship"?

    I find it hard to believe GM is actually footing the bill for all of these cars when the end-user isn't paying the on-star fee.

    Can anyone explain how this is working?

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