By on October 21, 2009

GM’s Onstar EV Lab recently invited Autobloggreen in for a preview of some of the Volt’s unique Onstar options. The upshot is that the GM-exclusive system will reach new levels of invasiveness, monitoring battery charge and temperature levels, as well as providing charging information. But beyond these Volt-related systems, ABG also reveals that Onstar monitored current users as guinea pigs for developing Volt roll-out plans:

GM pulled real data from thousands of OnStar-equipped vehicles over the last week, and calculated what would have happened had they all been Volts. These vehicles were a representative sample, which in this case means the random drivers were selected from areas where GM expects initial interest in the Volt will be high. GM has previously said that it has its eye on “early adopter” cities like San Francisco and Washington, D.C. to sell the Volt at first, so the sample might have included drivers from these areas.

This is a new development in the discussion of whether Onstar crosses privacy lines in the pursuit of safety, and oh yeah, profits. Onstar would argue that complete access to your vehicle helps prevent things like carjackings (a mission it has now officially accomplished once). The downside is that GM is apparently allowed to spy on your vehicle use patterns at will. Oh, and apparently the computer voice recognition leaves something to be desired, for the rurally accented. Is the system worth the downsides?

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30 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Onstar Worth The Spying?...”


  • avatar
    Quadrifoglio

    For the end user, not worth it. As the means to implement per-mile road taxation, carbon emissions rationing, and real-time auto insurance pricing, worth it – to the implementing bureaucrat, that is.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    A better option would be to tie your cell phone into the car with bluetooth and if there is an accident the cell phone could be programmed to call 911. Similarly if your car is stolen a cell phone that is part of the car (that YOU provide) could be called and shut down the engine,.

    The big problemo with On star is it is a service and arm of GM. And it is also a little out of your control what they do with the service. Tell me they don’t turn on microphones in the car when they feel like it. Prove to me this hasn’t happened yet.

    The concept is great, but it needs to be modified and regulations need to be placed on it. The government regulates everything else, let’s regulate Onstar a bit.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    It annoys me to no end that my Saab has this. I have never used it in the six months I have had the car, and once the one year free period is over I will be installing the Onstar-less cupholder panel that I already purchased. And to add to the insult, the Onstar LED is irritatingly bright. I’m just too cheap to delete it before the free period is over.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    Honestly anybody with a cellphone is subject to being monitored 24/7. We’ve past the point of where Big Brother is constantly watching you; however, unlike 1984 its not the Guv’ment, instead its the AKIRA Corporation big brother construct. I have OnStar on my Saturn Astra and have found it to be utterly useless. My mother and stepfather also own Saturns but say they can’t live without the OnStar (one uses it for the Turn-by-Turn and the other for the Onboard telephone).

    To me, OnStar is the automotive equivalent of LifeAlert; something to give old people peace of mind. Other than that, I can do without the OnStar diagnosistic emails, telling me the life expectancy of my oil and that my rear tire is slowly losing air. I can also do without some drone in Sector 7G tracking how many times I stopped by Home Depot or went 95 mph in a 55.

  • avatar
    Ion

    It’s not worth it. The average car is much harder to steal with their passive anti-theft systems and I’d rather have a proper GPS with a screen. It’s only a matter of time before insurance companies start using this to raise your rates for doing 5mph over the speed limit or the government uses this to tax you biased on how much you drive your car.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    That way when you run out juice half-way home, they will be able to send the sled dogs out to find you.

  • avatar

    As far as I’m concerned, the level of electronic spying is so high right now that Onstar doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. If the government wants you all they gotta do is requisition all the phone calls you’ve made, all the text messages, all the credit card purchases, all the video camera footage…etc. And there ain’t a damn bit of nothin you can do about it.

    They got satellites with frickin laser mics LOL They can hear what you are saying by listening to vibrations.

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    On Star is not worth it until you need it, than you will glad you have it.

    I’m not sure why Americans seem to be so paranoid about ‘Big Brother’ – do you really think that the government is interested in tracking everything that an average citizen does during the day.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I’m not sure why Americans seem to be so paranoid about ‘Big Brother’ – do you really think that the government is interested in tracking everything that an average citizen does during the day.
    Yes. They have demonstrated a desire to do this all over the world. And so do corporations. Check your Cookie Cache on the internet browser you are using.

  • avatar
    PJG62

    I can actually envision a situation where I might run off the road, and don’t want the police notified.

  • avatar
    troonbop

    “that an average citizen”

    It’s the definition of “average” that concerns me. It’s odd the things that will suddenly concern a government and it is not paranoia to wonder about it.

  • avatar
    Bridge2far

    OnStar is an enhancement. If I want turn by turn guidance, traffic conditions, emergency help or just want to find a decent restaurant I need only to press a button. Do I care if they “secretly” monitor my oil pressure? No.

  • avatar
    bwell

    I’m not sure why Americans seem to be so paranoid about ‘Big Brother’ – do you really think that the government is interested in tracking everything that an average citizen does during the day.

    Governments have been “interested” in this since the beginning of time. Only recently have they had the capability. They can’t wait to use it.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I wouldn’t mind non-personal data being shared as long as it wasn’t tied to my name or specific vehicle. If GM wanted to know how far I drive in an average week, and how far I venture from my home/work, well, there isn’t anything bad I can imagine them doing with that information.

    As far as the government goes, I doubt the police or intelligence agencies have any desire to know where most people go to run their errands, but I do worry that special interest groups could lobby to have such information shared in the future, and that scares me a lot. For example, I have no desire for my health insurance company to know how often I stop by the smoke shop or a liquor store, for my life insurance company to know if my car is parked outside an establishment offering scuba diving or skydiving lessons, or my auto insurance company knowing what my average speed is through various areas of town.

  • avatar
    buzz phillips

    Since the Feds now own GM they, (the Feds) could conceivably use On-Star to keep track of customers.

  • avatar
    Durask

    I doubt anyone here is afraid of stereotypical masked secret police.

    However, would the government love to track you better so that they could tax you more? You bet.

    Would insurance companies love to track you better so that they can jack up your rates? You bet. Stopping by a liquor store too often? Good luck getting life insurance! Driving to too many fast food joints? Well, your health insurance premiums just doubled, how do you like that?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Worth noting: OnStar is not the only service of this kind out there. BMW and Mercedes offer similar systems.

    My suggestion: read the privacy statement carefully before you buy this service. I did, and found nothing too Orwellian in it. If I were sending my wife and kids out alone in a car, I’d appreciate the security this system can provide.

    But I can see how others might feel differently.

  • avatar
    modemjunki

    “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

    George Orwell, 1984

  • avatar
    onerareviper

    I’m glad I was able to experience my college years before the common use of the internet + cameras on every person (ie – cell phones) + on buildings. I feel sorry for these young kids as they’ll never know what it’s like to experience true freedom of stupidity.

  • avatar

    ===I’m glad I was able to experience my college years before the common use of the internet + cameras on every person (ie – cell phones) + on buildings. I feel sorry for these young kids as they’ll never know what it’s like to experience true freedom of stupidity.
    ====

    They’ll never know what it has to have a job that they love, and they’ll likely never know what its like to simply be able to live without having to worry about debt or impending doom.

    I was about to say I wish I’d grown up in the 50′s or 60′s, but when I think about it, this country was in THE EXACT SAME PLACE. Either at war with Germany or at war with Russia, or if you go back a little – in depression.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    Good comments by Durask regarding likely behavioral monitoring and resulting fee assessments.

    No doubt if an OnStar/Stazi employee overhears a driver using words that fit a ‘hate speech’ profile, that will be reported to the appropriate agencies just in case, for the children, better safe than sorry, etc.

  • avatar
    Packard

    OnStar is a colossal waste of GM’s money, and all of the new “features” they’ve developed are merely an effort to make relevant something long ago leapfrogged by ordinary celphones and GPS devices.

    Actually, OnStar is a liability – in the literal sense – for GM. For example, OnStar can shut down your car while driving. They claim they’ll only do that on a “proper” police request. But, the lawsuits over proper – what if they refuse and someone’s hurt, or they do it and someone’s hurt, or the arrest is illegal, etc? – seem potentially endless. Granted, suing GM might not be the pot of gold anymore, but it’s better than suing the government directly.

    And, there’s a question of who actually owns the information GM’s collecting. That data is in a car you paid for. While there may not be a privacy interest, per se, in where you travel (it being a public act), that data’s probably yours. Stealing it is an intentional tort of conversion, subject to punitive damages.

    And, of course, now that they have acknowledged they have this data, that just raises the question of their “duty to warn” of someone habitually driving dangerously.

    Sooner or later, they’re gonna get sued.

  • avatar
    TRL

    Fine with me for now. Would miss it if next car doesn’t have something very similar.

    I’m not big into conspiracy theories. If big brother wants to know (why would they?) how many times I hit the Mickey D’s drive through I am not sure that bothers me.

    My only real fear is it becoming kind of an on-board photo radar system. With that revenue potential it could make the despised red light camera’s, and timed travel on toll roads, seem like minor league PIA’s. Even I would buy a gun if they try that one.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    If the monitoring is limited the health of the vehicle, I wouldn’t care. However, once it becomes tracking, well that is a different story. But then again, the horse has already left the barn. EZPass, cellphone GPS, black boxes in you car’s computer, supermarket club cards, credit cards, just to name a few. I loathe the idea of corporate America intruding in my life, sending me junk because they have monitored my browsing habits. The marketing people are far more active in the monitoring of average people than the government is. They are paid to separate you from your cash.

    OnStar can at least be disconnected. Try to stay out of the eyes of business…other than riding your bike to the mall and paying cash, good luck.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    SkiD666 :
    October 21st, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    On Star is not worth it until you need it, than you will glad you have it.

    I’m not sure why Americans seem to be so paranoid about ‘Big Brother’ – do you really think that the government is interested in tracking everything that an average citizen does during the day.

    We used to think that 1984 was impossible, there was no way in this day and age to keep constant track of people and monitor everything they do. We laughed at the thought and believed this to be true until the wall fell and the East German Stazi vaults were opened. The Stazi had no vast computer network yet still managed to keep tabs on every citizen of East Germany. Rooms were filled to the top with the monitoring files of every person in the country. Granted they seemed to have no idea of what to do with this massive store of analytical data; unless you looked further into their campaigns to root out dissidents and anti-communists. It can be done and has been proven.

    The worst part of this new monitoring of the American people is we voluteered for it. We gleefully lined up for IPhones, ran to get the latest in home security, and drive around with Satellite radio and yes, OnStar, tracking our every movement. We did it to ourselves. TS Eliot; it ends “Not with a bang, but with a whimper”.

  • avatar
    tedward

    “And, of course, now that they have acknowledged they have this data, that just raises the question of their “duty to warn” of someone habitually driving dangerously.”

    I agree, but think it’ll start with rooting out insurance fraud. GM knows to a certainty who is driving out of their insurance range and that is a perfect tool to open this box. The insurance companies will push it as lowering the rates for law abiding citizens, and the result is cancelled coverage, not speeding tickets and points, so it won’t be that obviously scary. Of course, that won’t help them make any money, the end goal for the insurance industry is pointing licenses. They will make a major push for this at some point.

    Look at the pressure put on IP’s by copyright holders…they are forming a working relationship under the threat of catastrophic (for either side potentially) litigation.

  • avatar
    greenb1ood

    I for one look forward to the day when Google, Verizon, Microsoft, and AT&T rule the world through their extensive network of data collection used to blackmail every power broker into submission.

    Good times!

  • avatar
    ragnar danneskjold

    Giving Government Motors OnStar access is a recipe for disaster. The old Soviet bloc would have loved this technology!

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    They get too intrusive and I will simply have another reason not to buy a GM product. If the gov’t mandates it then I’ll go back to driving my 70s aircooled VW. No air pollution regs here – yet…

    I don’t carry a cellphone and use cash now.

    No thanks. Not volunteering to be a well tracked consumer.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Before we get into the “What the Gov’t might do” discussion, how about we just focus on what has been done. So please, take off the tin foil hats.

    OnStar service isn’t bad, and most importantly, it is OPTIONAL. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to get it. If GM takes anonymous data to look at traffic patterns to plan for the Volt, I am not a fan of that, but it isn’t the end of the world. Many companies collect a lot of anonymous data from computers (Mozilla Firefox and Google to name just 2). It happens. Anonymous data isn’t the end of the world.

    Also, on the comments about it monitoring battery life, GM hasn’t said how they will do this or if they will do this on production vehicles, read the article. It was done on test mules. You also need to realize that part of OnStar is vehicle diagnostics. Battery life and charge would seem to part of this when it is sending those emails off to people.


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