By on June 6, 2013


Remote unlocking of your car’s doors via your smartphone , activating horn and lights and remote start, previously part of GM’s paid OnStar service, is becoming a standard feature, GM says.  Buy the car, download the app, and the car can be remote-controlled via your smartphone for five years, whether you pay for OnStar, or not. “Thirty-six 2014 model year GM vehicles are compatible with the RemoteLink mobile app,” says GM in a press release, meaning that most of GM’s new cars are permanently on-line, can be reached, tracked, can reveal their locations, OnStar, or not, ignition on, or not.

At the same time, says Time Magazine,  “Law-enforcement officials from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., are again sounding an alarm over mobile-phone thefts, demanding that the wireless industry, resellers and lawmakers take new steps to quash the thriving black market for boosted devices.” According to the story, “Cell-phone theft in major cities has become a national crime epidemic, like the car-stereo crime wave of the 1990s. In San Francisco, about half of all robberies now involve mobile phones, and in New York City there was a 40% increase in mobile thefts in 2012. One recent Harris poll found that nearly 10% of cellular users said their phone had been stolen at one point.”

Cell phone theft is estimated to cost consumers $30 billion a year. Imagine the cost, when a car is attached to that shiny new phone.Data theft is much more rampant, and it’s your government that does the wholesale stealing.

A report in The Guardian revealed “that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”

Such information is “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States,” a senior administration official told Reuters. Says the wire:

“The revelation raises fresh concerns about President Barack Obama’s handling of privacy and free speech issues. His administration is already under fire for searching Associated Press journalists’ calling records and the emails of a Fox television reporter as part of its inquiries into leaked government information.”


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A day later, the Washington Post revealed  that the U.S. Government can pull your data “directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple,” and has been doing so for years. If those good folks cooperate with the Feds, imagine the willingness of people who still are partially owned, and very much controlled by the U.S. Government.

OnStar data are transmitted via wireless data, which is wide open to the government and criminals alike.

Quite possibly, the only defense is to take the battery out of phone and car.

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60 Comments on “New With Most 2014 GM Vehicles: Feds, Spies, And Criminals As Standard Equipment...”

  • avatar

    I really don’t like the always online feature in a car. It’s not necessary, and the tracking implications are largely ominous in my mind.

    I just see a future where you’re monitored constantly by the black box in your car, and get tickets in the mail whenever you have committed a violation.

    • 0 avatar

      That blackbox is not the future, its now.

      • 0 avatar

        Isn’t a traditional ‘black box’ is just a recording device, not an always-on, track-anywhere/anytime device? I can’t complain about the former, but the latter worries me.

        • 0 avatar

          I’ve always understood the black box as being in GM cars (I recall a news story with an older Gran Prix where the driver was convicted because of his speed in a residential area when he crashed).

          I’m referring to a linked up sort of black box, which is “live.”

          • 0 avatar

            I believe GM has been putting black boxes in since OBDII went live, but as far as I was aware they are local to the car and cannot broadcast. I suppose now this has changed.

          • 0 avatar

            Most brands know have those black boxes located in them.

            If you remeber back to Toyota recall “incident”. The NHTSA was not able to read most of the black box data from Toyota until Toyota imported some data readers.

      • 0 avatar

        The ticket part is future, AFAIK. The blackbox is now.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Oh, boy. 1984 is upon us all.

    However, I’m sure there will be resourceful entrepeneurs who will develop and sell “jammers” to block the vehicle’s wireless transmissions.

    • 0 avatar

      And they see your car has gone offline so to speak, and report you, sending a tow to your last known location. Lol

      • 0 avatar

        Will take a long time to see any reaction from “rogue” jamming, and even as a jammer I wouldn’t worry unless your of interest to certain agencies. Beat cops are for the most part not the most tech savvy folks.

        • 0 avatar

          From the Verizon news, it would appear that everyone is now of interest to “certain agencies”.

          • 0 avatar

            That’s just generic data mining and analytics looking for patterns and profile building. If they want you, they will find you and this was long before this onstar snooping technology.

            My favorite case in point, this winner:

            http://en.wikipedia DOT org/wiki/Luke_Helder

            In 2002 our boy Luke decided to build pipe bombs and place them in unsuspecting mailboxes all over the Midwest, cute eh? According to Fox New Live the day of (which I was tuned into) his analog cell phone signal was tracked by No Such Agency while on a call to his gf as he was driving his 92 Civic across Eastern Nevada. He was caught by Nevada State Police *27 minutes* after first making the call, and this was over a decade ago. They want you, they’ll find you. Going low-tech might give you a slight advantage long enough to flee the country.

            Personally I don’t fear the agencies, I fear the Keystone Kops who already have too much power in a neighborhood near you.

    • 0 avatar

      and oddly, they will look like tinfoil hats! just around your car computers….

  • avatar

    It seems like this could be a real problem for used cars. How can you be sure someone else doesn’t have the ‘phone key’ to the car?

    I’ve always resisted the whole phone wallet idea because of concerns about phone loss/theft. This phone key notion just makes the scenario worse.

    • 0 avatar

      How do you know that somebody else doesn’t have an extra metal key to any used car that you buy today?

      • 0 avatar

        It becomes more of a problem with technology as you could possibly “track down” the car to a general location (i.e. a parking lot), hit the auto-start, and then drive up and down looking for a running car of X model. Odds are high those with extra keys are going to try and track down a car they sold and steal it back.

        The other nice thing about keys is they are much more anonymous, all Chevy/Ford/Chrysler keys pretty much look the same in most MYs, so I find your keys in the parking lot I can’t be certain which Chevy they go to (and it would prob trigger alarms if I start randomly trying they keys in every Chevy in said parking lot) I’d have to see the software, but its probably predicated on specific models you “save” into it… so I steal your phone and look at the software its probably going to give me at least generic info such as make/model year/color of your ride.

        Brave New World.

  • avatar

    Because new cars have so many telematics built in, it’s extremely hard to steal them. Check the “most stolen cars” lists and what you’ll see is most “car theft” is CAR PARTS from older trucks and Japanese imports: Accords, Camry, etc.

    You steal a “Chevy Impala” and YOU GET CAUGHT. Onstar tells the cops exactly where you are. And that’s if the police didn’t drive past you with their new license plate checker technology (also found in EZ pass equipped toll booths)

    Also consider that there is no constitutional right to drive. It’s a privi and I’m actually surprised the government doesn’t MANDATE basic navigation systems be in cars since they are so cheap now.

    That’s the one thing scaring me about automated driving. If the government ever mandated it, I’d have no choice but to sell my SUPERCHARGED BEAST and have to roll some stupid, piece of garbage “Johnny Cab” back and forth to the gun range, the airport and my mistresses’ apartment.

    • 0 avatar

      I see the 300 used as a cab often. Lolz.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem with your premise is the phrase “steal a Chevy Impala.” Why would any remotely sane person steal a car that dealers give away for free? Heck why would the owner want it back? The insurance is probably worth more. :)

      • 0 avatar

        I think he’s referring to the new one. I doubt GM will invest dime one into upgrading a fleet-only car at this point.

        Here this is helpful:
        “General Motors said it will make remote services standard for OnStar-equipped 2014 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models, even if the owner declines to pay for other OnStar services.”

        http://www.edmunds DOT com/car-news/gm-makes-onstar-remote-services-standard-for-many-2014-models.html

        So if you model doesn’t support On-Star, you’re cool. Conversely if your MY does support On-Star but its turned off, this may affect you depending on the OS generation (who knows if this will be backwards compatible or not).

        According to this post, Onstar is standard for the MY2014 Impala Limited… d’oh.

        http://www.gminsidenews DOT com/forums/f39/2014-impala-limited-whats-new-117692/

        • 0 avatar

          Read an article on this the other day.
          Seems criminals have some “magical” device that lets them approach a car and unlock the door. It’s usually the passenger door and the cops and auto manufacturers have no clue what the device is-or how it works.
          They usually don’t steal the car,just ransack the glove box,etc.
          The Japanese cars were pretty defenseless,GM was pretty safe against it and Ford was very safe against the device.

          BTW,not coathangers,some electronic device that allowed the crooks to walk up and unlock the door remotely.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 for the Total Recall reference.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    This would make for a new “Bait Car” reality TV series. Remember the old show where the cops would leave the Escalade in a sketchy neighbor hood with the keys in the ignition and the door open? Then some hapless ghetto dweller would take the car followed by the two block chase. Then thief would be locked in the car by remote control while th engine was cut off. I really enjoyed watching this for a few episodes until the thieves started to look and act too much alike.
    Well now it could be updated with a cellphone theme where there is an Escalade on the cell phone that is stolen from a cop posing as a distracted, smart phone addicted victim. The thief would turn on the phone and see the remote car app and proceed to boost the car. From here it’s a repeat of the old show. A new twist would be to fry the phone while it’s in the theif’s pocket if he decided to not pursure stealing the car.
    True TV, I’m giving your a freebee here.

  • avatar

    Kept it simple. Set aside $30,000 CASH
    1. Buy a used 2008 Prius and enjoy 50-60mpg in quiet serenity. Insulate yourself from “exposure” to fuel prices and mechanical malady.
    2. Buy a used 2002-2004 Chevy Z06 and enjoy your weekends in Borla stinger heaven

    What more does anyone need? I just cannot understand the appeal of almost any new car purchase.

    As the ING ads say, Save Your Money!!!… cause lord knows THE Company will take it

    • 0 avatar

      I’m doing the two car strategy now (08 Pontiac/93 Volvo) and the trouble with two used cars is maintaining them simultaneously (both in cost and logistics). Prius may be a great choice but any ’08 is starting to enter its maintenance 60-80K period, as is the 02-04 truck. So you buy the cars for X and then have to start coughing up for all of the deferred maintenance. Personally in your analogy I would opt for a ’12 Prius and possibly an older truck (first gen Avalanche comes to mind).

      • 0 avatar

        – when you only pay $10k for that 2008 and it has under 80,000 miles, you can easily afford $2,500 in unplanned maintenance. The operating cost per mile with the reserve built in BLOWS any comparable car out of the water. The PRIUS will go 200,000 miles and the only real failure will be the HSD transaxle (hit up a wrecker) or the battery (lots of options there too)…. The Prius deserves much much more recognition then many (especially enthusiast sites) give it credit for. I went from American and Japanese V8’s to a Prius and couldn’t be happier… Average fuel consumption is between 50-55mpg and the NVH characteristics are remarkable.

        • 0 avatar

          Prius may be unique in the sense it may not require most of the normal stuff at that mileage (timing belts, water pumps, trans/coolant fluid changes, tune up) and would only need tires/brakes etc. I suppose with that size of budget you could do the wear and tear items on it and the truck in your analogy.

    • 0 avatar

      Prius quiet? Hardly. Darned good car, but certainly not quiet. Two new cars under warranty, a beater Jeep that I can just park/through away as needed and a couple olde crocke sports cars make my days brighter.

      The appeal of new cars is that all the bodily fluids in the car are yours, and yours alone. And more importantly, you can have it YOUR way. Which of course is meaningless if all you drive are beigemobiles that only come in six shades of gray and three trim levels. I wouldn’t buy one of those things new either.

      I say you can’t take it with you, might as well spend it on something nice. And since SOMEONE has to buy cars new y’all can thank me later. Both my BMW and my Abarth will make very nice used cars for someone someday.

  • avatar

    Unless things have changed on the newer cars, it’s pretty trivial to remove the Onstar hardware, just like Tony Soprano.

    If you have a habit of carrying your cell phone with you, you already have a device on which the government may track your every move.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Meh, if the cops are interested in me, they’ll just illegally plant a GPS on me anyway until they can get a warrant to retroactively begin monitoring me. So I may as well get some benefit (remote locking and heating/cooling, no need to buy LoJack, navigation system control, emergency response) in the meantime.

    Too lazy and burnt out to care anymore, wake me when the shooting starts.

    • 0 avatar

      You shoulda seen the cop who pulled me yesterday. He had an Altima squad car and I was in the SRT8. I’m not sure he couldn’t get me for noise, but I realized he was following me waiting for me to do something. He waited till I made a left turn and then pulled me over claiming the other guy had the right of way, even though that guy LET ME GO.

      I showed him my ID and he took it to his car for like 10 seconds and then brought it back realizing who I was, he couldn’t really ticket me for nothing cause I could fight it and easily win – cause trouble for him.

      I TROLLED HIM with silly comments:

      “Officer, you heard the tire squeal because this car is RWD instead of FWD”.

      – Listen – I drive high performance cars too… I have a Mustang 5.0.

      “REALLY? You’ve got that new SHELBY officer?

      – no – but I know your tires don’t have to spin when you turn…

      “Sorry Officer, I didn’t expect them too.

      – Why does your car sound like that?

      “It’s the Exhaust system officer, it’s a 6.1”

      – listen, drive carefully and be more careful

      “Absolutely officer, thank you very much”.

      I’m sure that same pig pulled me over before but I’m fairly certain that last time I actually was speeding wherein this time all I did was make a turn with him following me. Usually when cops follow me waiting for me to F’ up, I just pull over and go into the corner store till they run my plates, realize it’s not stolen and leave.

      In the video where I tested the CTS-Coupe V the day it was released, Nassau cops TRAILED ME for MILES waiting… I drove below speed limit figuring there was no way they could ticket me for driving below speed limit in a “dealer owned new car” because it would NEVER hold up in court. I just let him go around me and when he was gone, I TRIED TO RUB THAT GOTDAMNED GAS PEDAL OUT.

      I had the same problem in a Murcielago Roadster.

      ” It’s factory from Lamborghini officer :)”
      – let me check it in my tint meter.
      “NO PROBLEM OFFICER! Go right ahead!”

      The cops see me in the XJ-L and they ARE 100% CERTAIN THE CAR IS STOLEN.

      Then I’ve gotta pull PBA cards and name drop the lawyers in my family in a polite manner.

      – I smell marijuana…do you smell marijuana?

      “No officer…in fact, I’ve never smoked Marijuana in my entire life, and I’ve heard you have a THC test where you shave hair from individuals and test it. If you did that for me, you’d see I’m 100% clean.

      They do this JUST SO THEY CAN CHECK MY CAR for guns or weed. And I always ride clean.

      • 0 avatar

        Seriously BTSR you’re 100% correct and I have this from a police officer. LT gives them objectives (here its mostly “get the guns of the street”) and they go snooping.

        Sometimes though its not as deliberate as you’d think. I just heard an amusing tale about an anonymous tip claiming someone was coming out of town by bus on X day with X amount of heroin stuffed in their crotch. So they check out the tip, ask questions of passengers on buses coming from out of town, do the whole detection thing, and inadvertently find a guy smuggling 20 pounds of weed in his backpack. Never found the crotch smuggler, they’re not even sure if it was even legit tip in retrospect.

        But its also possible you may be the victim of someone else’s game, what if the local pigs hear 10 kilos are coming in a Chrysler 300 because one dealer is trying to set up another, and you unfortunately get harassed as a result? It’s tough for the cops who aren’t assholes to walk the tightrope of duty and civil liberties.

      • 0 avatar

        for the tint. get a note from an optomologist that you’re sensitive to light and need the tint, then keep it in your glovebox. works for me.

        • 0 avatar

          I have dark tint and I have NEVER been hassled about it. Is it legal in some states? Or is this just a “type of area” you’re in sort of issue?

          I’d be interested in an article about tint laws, with some example photos.

          • 0 avatar

            I can’t speak for elsewhere, but in PA anything beyond 70% is technically prohibited. Real cops don’t usually enforce it unless you have limo tint all around.

      • 0 avatar

        Pretty sure you can squeal the tires on a FWD car.

      • 0 avatar

        cool story, bro!

  • avatar

    My 4Runner has some internet connectivity with my cell phone, it has also some sattelite integration. Most new cars have this. They also have arrays of computers monitoring everything from brake inputs, yaw, fuel consumption, acceleration, GPS positioning…

    Your car is essentially aware of where it is, how it’s being driven, where it’s being driven (if you’re using the GPS). Data is cheap, those packets are small. There’s no reason any of that info can’t be stored indefinately, broadcast to remote servers, used to track you by a benevolent government who states this is all for the sake of “safety.”

    Each day I see crap like this I feel like I should untarp my 60 series, clean the carb, and go off the grid (of course I’d have to leave my smartphone at home).

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Yet another reason to hang on to my 12-year old BMW. The problem with all this electronic shit (and it is shit) is that people with a modicum of skill can spoof it, as the Iranians demonstrated in capturing one of our stealth drones.

    All of this stuff needs to come with an “off” switch that sill allows you to operate the car normally . . . and the question of what happens when you buy a used car equipped with all of these bugs/features is not a trivial one.

  • avatar

    With the GM Onstar System there are two factors that need to be stated…

    – There is still an Onstar password that must be entered before you can get to the key fob functions from the App.

    – If you sell the car, there is still a requirement to have an Onstar account. If you sell your car and maintain the Onstar account, you could possibly keep the account active, but it would not take much detective work to tell that you opened the car and took it. Also, the new owner could register with Onstar and immediately make your account inactive…

    • 0 avatar

      What’s up with the GM ad showing the couple using a parked vehicle locator app inside a building? I would have though that would require the car to get a GPS signal in order to know it’s location. That wouldn’t happen in a building.

    • 0 avatar

      I haven’t seen the software, but most software has a save password feature. If they do not offer this then its a bit safer, but I can see customers being annoyed having to enter their passwords every time they want to use it (esp if the phone effectively replaces their key fob in usage).

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    This reminds me of that Canadian prog-trio, Rush, 1981’s song, Red Barchetta:

    “My uncle has a country place that no one knows about
    He says it used to be a farm before the Motor Law
    And on Sundays, I elude the eyes, hop the turbine freight
    To far outside the wire, where my white-haired uncle waits

    Jump to the ground as the turbo slows to cross the borderline
    Then run like the wind as excitement shivers up and down my spine
    But down in his barn, my uncle preserved for me an old machine
    For fifty odd years, to keep it as new has been his dearest dream

    I strip away the old debris that hides a shining car
    A brilliant red Barchetta from a better vanished time
    Ooh, fired up the willing engine, responding with a roar
    Tires spitting gravel, I commit my weekly crime”

    There is more…interesting song

  • avatar

    How many people will actually use this. This is just one more step towards convenience. One more than keyless entry and ignition. Something that will forever be on must have list.

    How many customers will feel trade off between convenience and security worth it.

  • avatar

    I think the issue here isn’t that an auto company offered smartphone integration for in-vehicle services. I think the issue is that the “wrong” company did it first.

    As far as I can tell, most of the assumptions of traceability are just that, assumptions. You don’t really know anything about how the app works, or what’s required to integrate it with the vehicle. You’re just assuming that whoever has the phone can open the car and start it, which is baseless.

    I see this as being basically a fancier version of keyless entry and remote start, which already relies on a radio signal to work. That too has to be “live” at all times in order to function properly, but I don’t see any outrage building over remote key fobs.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Fine. Remote unlock my car. Remote start it while you’re at it. Don’t care.

    It’s a manual, so, good luck. Most car thieves can’t drive it anyway.

  • avatar

    Step 1: Open Owner’s Manual to Index

    Step 2: Find fuses in Index

    Step 3: Examine fuse diagram

    Step 4: Find MyLink, and/or Onstar and/or Telematics fuse

    Step 5: Pull fuse

    Step 6: Problem solved

    Ooooooooooooooooooooooooo…GM is spying on you. Funny, cars since 1996 have this thing called OBDII. I can buy a $100 scanner, or shoot an iPohone app and a Bluetooth OBDII transmitter and tell someone if they’ve abused their car or not too. Never mind the “black boxes” for crashes in most cars that have been their for years.

    Want to worry about something – I heard the NSA has been spying on millions of Verizon customers – Constitution be damned. Your right to “privacy” is not assured by corporate policy – only allegedly by your government.

    Nothing to see here people – move along because at the end of the day, I find it incredibly difficult to believe that GM legal would allow a technology to come into play where someone could steal a car by downloading an iPhone app.

    • 0 avatar

      A cohesion between the legal and technical/engineering departments is not always present. The trouble is once the technology is put in place, somebody will find a way to hack it. Nothing is truly secure.

  • avatar

    BMW has much of the same services available.
    Hyundai has much of the same services available.
    Toyota has much of the same services available.

    Honestly, losing the phone isn’t that big a deal if you can’t make the car go. Looks like stealing the keys is a better way to go.

  • avatar

    The wife and I just turned in my 2010 Tacoma after a 3 year lease. We decided on a 68 340 Dart to replace it. There, no more big brother.

  • avatar

    “New With Most 2014 GM Vehicles: Feds, Spies, And Criminals As Standard Equipment”

    This is why I read TTAC – the Drudge Report of the automotive world.

    Much in the same way that you can’t trust the clowns in the MSM to tell you anything of value (seriously, how sad is it that we had to find out about the Verizon issue from The Guardian) you can’t trust the mainstream automotive press much, either.

    Keep up the good work.

  • avatar

    Your first point contradicts your second point completely. A thief who steals your on-star equipped car would be caught rather quickly. It will be a very short joyride.

  • avatar

    Anyone else here who works in governmental big data knows how little there is to fear about Big Brother’s intentions.

    Big Brother is a hapless bumblef**k with overwhelmed illiterates at the street-level responding to an avalanche of contradictory alerts from competing agencies directed by vendor-corrpted senior managers hopping the ever shifting lilly-pad beds of a shrinking mlitary-security complex that lives in mortal fear of sequestration and the next leak to the media.

    If you’re a bad guy, the more we know about you, the more certain that the SWAT team or the summons will show up at your cousin’s neighbor’s house. Or be sent to the guy with the Norwegian instead of the Swedish version of your name; or to the owner of what’s closest to your text-box truncated last name.

    Because the more we know about you, the more incompetent users and glitchy, schizoid, tarted-up and top-heavy 90’s databases have corrupted it in transmission. That’s what “fusion” is all about.

    I would worry more about lightning than about malevolent government intrusion into your life. Unless you’re an outspoken conservative.

    • 0 avatar

      I can tell you from big business private sector experience that you are essentially correct. Databases that are not constantly used quickly turn to garbage. Add to that vendor corruption, maybe a certain lack of accountability as applied to the efficacy of the big boss’s pet project. I could go on and on.

      Imo, what the average person really fears from technoid ‘big brother’ is not tyranny, but the random heavy hand of STUPID itself. We have had cases locally where a SWAT team killed some innocent yokel because they had the wrong address and raided the house across the street from the real crack house.

      • 0 avatar

        I completely agree with the average person fearing “the random heavy hand of STUPID itself.” Beautifully said.

        My pet peeve is the coterie of tech savvy idiot-savants who light up the geek blogs with Chicken Little paroxysms of squawking about incipient doom every time they see another surveillance camera on a light pole.

        If they would occasionally poke their heads outside the cloistered fetidness of their server rooms and TA offices, they might notice that all this streaming gigabit tyranny doesn’t amount to dick when handed over to the usual mix of knaves and buffoons that comprise 85% of any human enterprise, particularly a government.

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