For as little as 13 cents a day, you can spy on your vehicle's movements to see if your teenager is really headed to the library like she said she was, or if your wife was coming straight home after the grocery store. Although OnStar's new functionality with "Family Link" is meant to let users keep tabs on who is driving their car for well-intentioned safety reasons, you can imagine the intra-family tracking that could occur with this new feature.
As SlashGear says, "it's a double-edged sword, but it's a feature that customers want." According to the press release, the feature was tested with more than 4,500 users and the response was in favor of it. OnStar Vice President of Subscriber Services Joanne Finnorn said in a statement that customers' feedback was "it provides them peace of mind by staying connected to their family when they’re on the road.”
Here's what the new feature says it will allow subscribers to do:
- Vehicle Locate: Subscribers can log onto the Family Link website to view a map with the vehicle's location at any time.
- Vehicle Location Alert: Subscribers can set up email or text message notifications to let them know the location of their vehicle. They can choose the day, time and frequency of the alerts.
Wired reports some obvious concerns on the privacy implications of this technology:
"It’s troubling,” says Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Any time a new service like this is introduced you have to think beyond what’s described in the press release.”
OnStar representative Cheryl McCarron concedes that, “We are depending on subscribers to tell other family members that they’ve enabled the service on the vehicle,” but that’s an obvious leap in trust, not to mention the security issues surrounding multiple family members having access to a shared account with one username and password.
Account security aside, the larger issue is maintaining a balance between anonymity and security, and as Higgins points out, “It’s important to remember that you can provide a service that is valuable and useful and still be violating people’s privacy.”
An example OnStar provides for this service is the benefit of not having to call or text to let another family member know you've arrived at your destination -- they'll be able to see for themselves. The service, which is available for $3.99 per month and will begin launching mid-April, will only be accessible to the family member with a password. Here is OnStar's promo video for the feature:
“OnStar continues to evolve because we spend time listening to our subscribers so that we can develop new technologies and applications that meet their needs,” said Finnorn. “Family Link is the result of OnStar turning what they imagine into a solution they can use.”