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Beck’s OnStar Concerns Were Right — Tracking Continues Even After Cancellation

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"When will our congress pass legislation that stops the American people’s privacy from being raped..."

Two years ago, Media Matters mocked Glenn Beck for his "conspiracy theory" that OnStar had too much power with its ability to track cars, listen to conversations and ultimately turn the car off. Well, it looks like his concerns were accurate, as GM has just made a major announcement about the GPS system.

Here's the video from Media Matters in 2009:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/PUfOd27c4q4?version=3&hl=en_US expand=1]

Wired now reports that even if you cancel your OnStar service, you are still being tracked:

OnStar began e-mailing customers Monday about its update to the privacy policy, which grants OnStar the right to sell that GPS-derived data in an anonymized format.

Adam Denison, a spokesman for the General Motors subsidiary, said OnStar does not currently sell customer data, but it reserves that right. He said both the new and old privacy policies allow OnStar to chronicle a vehicle’s every movement and its speed, though it’s not clear where that’s stated in the old policy.

“What’s changed [is that if] you want to cancel your OnStar service, we are going to maintain a two-way connection to your vehicle unless the customer says otherwise,” Denison said in a telephone interview.

The connection will continue, he said, to make it “easier to re-enroll” in the program, which charges plans from $19 to $29 monthly for help with navigation and emergencies.

Continuing to collect information, Denison said, makes it easier OnStar to provide information for organizations that request it:

“We hear from organizations periodically requesting our information,” he said.

He said an example of how the data might be used would be for the Michigan Department of Transportation “to get a feel for traffic usage on a specific section of freeway.” The policy also allows the data to be used for marketing purposes by OnStar and vehicle manufacturers.

Collecting location and speed data via GPS might also create a treasure trove of data that could be used in criminal and civil cases. One could also imagine an eager police chief acquiring the data to issue speeding tickets en masse.

Wired notes that blogger and forensic scientist Jonathan Zdziarski, who wrote about OnStar "spying on customers" GPS location for profit" said he was canceling his service and making sure he was fully disconnected. He wrote, "When will our congress pass legislation that stops the American people’s privacy from being raped by large data warehousing interests? Companies like OnStar, Google, Apple, and the other large abusive data warehousing companies desperately need to be investigated."

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