11:45am

Tue September 27, 2011
The Two-Way

OnStar Hits Reverse: It Won't Keep Collecting Data From Old Customers

Just days after it received intense criticism from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), some other lawmakers and privacy advocates, General Motors' OnStar service has agreed that it won't keep its data connections open to customers who have canceled the service.

In a statement, the company says today that:

"OnStar recently sent emails 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.' "

Critics had a couple problems with OnStar's original plan. One was that the company would have been collecting data on the travel and driving habits of drivers who no longer actively subscribed to its service. The other problem, said critics, was that OnStar reserved the right to sell that information — though the company said it had no plan to do that. Both problems raised privacy issues.

OnStar's position was that the information could be valuable to future car designers and that keeping the connections open would allow it to send emergency alerts to drivers who might not otherwise be reachable. And, it said, drivers could "opt-out" of having the connections maintained — though that option was probably not clear to many vehicle owners.

Now, OnStar's Marshall says in the company's statement, "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."

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