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Senator Schumer blasts OnStar for 'brazen' privacy violation, calls for FTC investigation

Amar Toor, @amartoo
September 26, 2011
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Last week, OnStar issued a privacy notice informing customers that it would continue to collect data on vehicles still connected to its servers, even for those who have already canceled their subscriptions. The move elicited a chorus of protests from Democratic privacy advocates in the Senate, including Chris Coons, Al Franken and, most recently, Charles Schumer, who wrote a letter to the FTC yesterday calling for an investigation into what he sees as a bold violation of consumer rights. "By tracking drivers even after they've canceled their service, OnStar is attempting one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory," the New York Senator said. "I urge OnStar to abandon this policy and for FTC to immediately launch a full investigation to determine whether the company's actions constitute an unfair trade practice." Find out more about OnStar's new policy, after the break.



According to the company, the information it collects -- including data on a car's location, speed and accident history -- could be used to alert ex-customers to dangerous weather and product recalls, or for internal "quality, research, or troubleshooting purposes." OnStar insists that the only people who could have access to these data are "law enforcement or other public safety officials, credit card processors and/or third parties [contracted for] joint marketing initiatives." Joanne Finnor, vice president of subscriber services, went on to point out that although OnStar reserves the right to sell this information to third parties, it has yet to do so, and doesn't plan to, either. Former customers, moreover, can always disconnect their vehicle by contacting an OnStar agent, but Schumer counters that consumers shouldn't be forced to opt-out of the feature if they've already discontinued their subscription. OnStar, for its part, acknowledges that it didn't do a great job of communicating these changes to its customer base and seems committed to making a change. "We apologize for creating any confusion about our terms and conditions," Finnor said. "We want to make sure we are as clear with our customers as possible, but it's apparent that we have failed to do this... We will continue to be open to their suggestions and concerns."

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