By Matt Peckham
OnStar's crying uncle after the media (and presumably customer) hoopla over its plans to track former subscribers. That's terrific news—I called the plan creepy, because it was.
OnStar just announced that it was changing course, stating it was "reversing its proposed Terms and Conditions policy changes," and that it would "not keep a data connection to customers' vehicles after the OnStar service is canceled."
MORE: Creepy: OnStar Will Track You Whether You're Subscribed or Not
The satellite based tracking service had planned, beginning this December, to collect speed, location and related customer data from users whether they discontinued service or not—unless, that is, customers specifically contacted OnStar to sever the latent, secondary connection.
OnStar recently emailed its customers to let them know of their plans to begin collecting the data, ostensibly to mine and sell to third parties, but it seems that between the media's negative reaction and the presumed customer backlash, OnStar changed its mind.
“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers," said OnStar president Linda Marshall in a statement. "This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers' hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our more than 6 million customers."
Marshall says that if OnStar decides to pursue post-cancellation data collection in the future, it would be opt-in only, and even then, OnStar says it would work with customers to determine how the data was used. Marshall lists two ways the data might benefit former customers, including providing updates about natural disasters or recalls that impact their vehicles (though she doesn't mention any of the less desirable things OnStar might use the data for, including monitoring driving behavior or general location-based activity).
If you're a current OnStar subscriber, however, your data's still being mined, like it or not.
According to the company's terms of service, subsection 33 (titled "YOUR PRIVACY"):
The information we may get from your Car includes things such as: data about its operation; data about your use of the OnStar Services; the location of your Car; data about accidents involving your Car, including safety belt usage; and information about your use of the Car and its features. We may also approximate the speed of your Car based on GPS data to support a limited number of OnStarServices, such as Stolen Vehicle Assistance services, as further described in our Privacy Statement. We may collect information from your Car on a periodic or regular basis.
In any event, OnStar's quick reaction and unambiguous reversal for customers who want to snap their subscription link clean and free gets my thumbs up. The only thing that'd top this would be more detailed disclosure of what else, beyond providing basic services and legal compliance, the company's actually doing with the data its mining from current subscribers.