You have probably heard of OnStar. It’s that little button on the dashboard that you press after your vehicle has been involved in an accident. It connects you with an real person who can provide you with the help you now require.
OnStar is ushering in a new generation of connected vehicles with in-vehicle 4G LTE. It will enable owners of the vehicles to explore some new features, including a built in Wi-Fi hotspot that is capable of pairing up to seven devices. If the vehicle is on, the Wi-Fi is also on. It also includes improved access to existing OnStar safety and security devices.
The launch will offer a trial period of three months or three gigabytes, whichever comes first. OnStar President Mary Chan said “Later this year we will begin to offer data plans and our customers will be able to connect for as little as $5.00 per month.”
The first vehicle to include OnStar 4G LTE will be the 2015 Chevrolet Malibu. It will be followed by more than 30 other Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac vehicles by the end of the year.
Drivers who currently are subscribed to OnStar Safe & Sound or Directions & Connections plans already receive a comprehensive suite if safety and security services. Later this year, for $5.00 more per month, they can access 200 megabytes of data. According to AT&T’s Data Calculator, that is enough to stream more than 6.5 hours of music, surf the internet for 13 hours, or send more than 10,000 emails (without attachments)
Under a recent change in policy, OnStar which is owned by GM continues to connect to your vehicle and collect information about it even after you have cancelled your account. This change of policy goes into effect Dec 1. This information includes speed, location, odometer reading and seatbelt usage. Information that could be used by both law enforcement and insurance companies among others to both the aid and detriment of the consumer. OnStar stated they reserve the right to share this information with interested third parties, including law enforcement, although they do not do so at this time. OnStar stated that this allows them to communicate to the cars occupants about severe weather, emergency evacuation, and recalls. OnStar also insist that this information is clearly stated in the Terms of Service (TOS) and customers should be aware of it. It is unclear however, whether this is something that OnStar informs the customer when they cancel their service or is it something that the customer has to bring up. This is clearly an opt out service and not an opt in service. Let’s assume that consumers read the TOS when they first get the service and are aware they have to deactivate the data connection when they cancel service to stop OnStar from collecting data. Are they really going to remember this when they actually cancel service, I doubt it and I bet OnStar is betting on this. This change of policy has raise the ire of several Senators including Senator Schumer (NY), Al Franken (MN) and Christopher Coons (DE). They have all called upon Onstar to change it’s policy, Senator Schumer has also requested the FTC to launch and investigation.
First I am presently not a user of OnStar, none of the cars I own have it installed. A few rental cars I used in the past have had it installed. So I have never had to cancel the service. However when I cancel service with a business this means to me and I think most consumer, that my contract and connection to that business has been totally severed. It doesn’t mean the business can continue to collect information about me and that’s alright because it’s for my safety. Why OnStar thought that consumers would be ok with this is beyond me, or perhaps more likely they thought no one would notice. The second question is why OnStar is collecting this information in the first place, if not to sell it. With over 6 million willing customers from which they can collect information from, do they really need to collect information from ex-customers. Finally what prompted the change in policy and did anyone at OnStar say wait this might be a bad idea.
OnStar has been fitted to GM vehicles for 15 years now and has been a success from the start – there are now over 6 million subscribers worldwide. During this time, GM have often been asked to retrofit OnStar to other vehicles but that hasn’t been possible…until now. From this spring, the OnStar hardware will be available from Best Buy (and other retailers) for $299. Installation by qualified professionals is recommended.
If you are not familiar with OnStar, it’s a safety, security and communication service all rolled together. One of the useful features is automatic crash response which will summon assistance if you are unfortunate enough to be in a crash. Let’s hope you never have to use it.
If you want to check if your car is suitable, whether it’s an Audi or Toyota, there will be list of approved vehicles at OnStar.com when it goes on sale.
Interview by Jeffery Powers from Geekazine.com.
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