OnStar’s Privacy Dust-Up: It’s Over, and Didn’t Apply to OnStar FMV

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My latest Technologizer column on is about OnStar FMV, the first version of the car safety-and-information service available as an aftermarket add-in for most cars, cleverly built into a rear-view mirror. When I shared the story on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, I heard from some folks who said FMV sounded neat. But a few said they were disgruntled with OnStar over privacy issues, and therefore weren’t interested.

What they were referring to was a kerfuffle that cropped up late last month. GM announced it was making changes to OnStar’s privacy policies that would allow it to continue to use the GPS incorporated into OnStar hardware to track a car even if its owner had canceled OnStar service. The company said it reserved the right to capture information such as a car’s speed and location, and then sell that information, aggregated and anonymized.

(MORE: Creepy: OnStar Will Track You Whether You’re Subscribed or Not)

People weren’t happy with this new wrinkle. So much so that GM quickly reversed course and decided not to give itself the right to track OnStar-equipped vehicles after service had been canceled. (It does track cars that have OnStar enabled: In fact, that’s the whole point of the service, which uses this information for driving directions and to send help in case of emergencies.)

A GM representative told me, incidentally, that the new privacy policy never applied to OnStar FMV in the first place.

Bottom line: If you’re intrigued by OnStar FMV but alarmed by the idea of GM monitoring you after you drop the service, you don’t need to fret. Unless you’re a privacy absolutist and wish to eliminate all possibility of GM or anyone else spying on your location. But if you are, you don’t want GPS in your car, period. In fact, you don’t want to carry a GPS-enabled anything.

I wonder how many people refuse to carry a modern smartphone on such privacy grounds?

MORE: Magic Mirror: GM Brings OnStar to Non-GM Cars