GM's OnStar feels heat, reverses controversial privacy changes

OnStar says it won't track customers even after they quit using service

Only a few days after it made what U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) called "brazen" changes to its privacy policy, General Motors subsidiary OnStar has backed down and said it would revert back to its previous terms of service.

OnStar ignited a firestorm of criticism when it announced it would continue to collect information about customers of its onboard auto services even after their subscription ends - unless specifically instructed by the consumer not to. In the past OnStar would have ended such tracking when a subscription ended. OnStar typically collects data about customers' location, speed, driving habits and odometer mileage.

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The change prompted Schumer to send a letter to the Federal Trade Commission looking to get the agency to investigate the OnStar changes. Schumer, who also wrote to OnStar, called the company's new policy represented a brazen, almost unheard-of invasion of the privacy of potentially millions of drivers.

On Tuesday however, GM issued a statement that read:

OnStar recently sent e-mails to customers telling them that effective Dec. 1, their service would change so that data from a customer vehicle would continue to be transmitted to OnStar after service was canceled - unless the customer asked for it to be shut off.

"We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers," OnStar President Linda Marshall said. "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."

If OnStar ever offers the option of a data connection after cancellation, it would only be when a customer opted-in, Marshall said. And then OnStar would honor customers' preferences about how data from that connection is treated.

"We regret any confusion or concern we may have caused," Marshall said

Through the use of GPS technology and a two-way connection between the car and the company, OnStar is able to track drivers' locations and give them alternative driving directions, emergency response in the case of an accident, and a host of other services. Most new GM vehicles come standard with OnStar and drivers are often given three months of service free when they purchase a car installed with the service.

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