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Thread: Privacy with Onstar

  1. #1

    Privacy with Onstar

    So I was driving home tonight listening to the radio and a Onstar commercial came one the radio, in this particular commercial a womans Check Engine Light and by pushing the Onstar button an “adviser” was able to tell her that her gas cap wasn't properly tightened and that was the reason for the Check Engine Light. Which got me thinking, if everything in our vehicle is controlled by computer and there are people who admit to being able to control these computers where will this stop? What if Law Enforcement was able to use this they could look at this information and say “Ahh I see that this vehicle didn't come to a complete stop at such ad such intersection (using the GPS) they ran the stop sign there”, or were speeding, or whatever. Now this technology does have it's advantages, and accident, keys locked in the car, whatever but I'm not sure I like the idea of someone being able to track my every move. I know this sounds a lot like “Big Brother” and that we can be tracked by other methods too like purchases with credit cards, what web sites we visit, and whatever else but this one in particular really bugged me. I know this really doesn't have anything do do with computer security but I think it does step over the line as far as personal privacy, and I wasn't sure where to put it.

    After typing this up I did a search on Onstar privacy and came up with this article on how law enforcement can't use it to eavesdrop on conversations in the car.

    And here is an article that addressing an issue i never though of. Onstar giving info to the Insurance Co.s about your driving habits

    OnStar even admits that your information may not be kept private in their privacy policy
    "While OnStar is committed to protecting your privacy, we cannot guarantee that your private communications and other personally identifiable information will never be disclosed in ways not described in this policy. Subscribers are cautioned that the privacy of any information sent via wireless cellular communications will not be assured. Third parties may, for instance, unlawfully intercept or access transmissions and private communications without our consent. In addition, OnStar may disclose personal information if required to do so by law on in the good faith belief that such disclosure is reasonably necessary to (i) comply with the legal process, (ii) respond to claims of a violation of the rights of third parties, or (iii) protect the rights, property or safety of OnStar, our users or the public. OnStar cannot accept any responsibility for accidental or inadvertent disclosure, unauthorized access or for other disclosure as required by law or described in this policy."

    OK I'm done what does everyone else think about this possible infringment on personal privacy?

  2. #2
    Macht Nicht Aus moxnix's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Huson Mt.
    OK I'm done what does everyone else think about this possible infringment on personal privacy?
    possible infringment -- possible infringment ?? Posiible doesn't even enter the equasion here. It is an invasion of personal privacy, except that people are paying to have their privacy violated.
    With the present patriot act that is in place, a court order is not even needed for an agency to monitor your every movement. Onstar, Qualcom, and any other globle tracking system can be used to track you within 10 yards of where ever you go. They can tell your speed, direction, every stop, and when and how long you have the key off.
    There was a case recently where a truck driver, who was charged with vehicular homicide, was connvicted by the use of Qualcom records of the movement of his truck. What convicted him wasn't his speed or anything to do with driving, but that he only took seven of the mandentory 8 hours off after driving for 10 hours, which was a violation of the 10 hour rule.
    Qualcom had a policy when they first started that wouldn't let any records out unless it had a direct supoena of a judge. Now, even I can get a copy of the logs of a particulat truck simply by showing that they are to be used in a legal action, which includes civail cases.
    \"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Champagne in one hand - strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO - What a Ride!\"
    Author Unknown

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    After typing this up I did a search on Onstar privacy and came up with this article on how law enforcement can't use it to eavesdrop on conversations in the car.
    That article was a follow up to Onstar filling a protest lawsuit against the FBI. If you read this article @ you can see how the FBI already exploited the service.
    $pak = me;

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    first... onstar is not an invasion of a person's privacy... onstar is a service that a person chooses to subscribe to. they choose ot give up personal privacy for security. if onstar however reported to police everytime you went over the posted speed limit, and you recieved sa ticket, that is when it becomes an invasion of privacy, because you did not sign up for that. these people are knowingly signing up for something where they know that the technicians are going to be able to know where they are going at all times as well as knowing all the details about their car. the fact that the records are avail able is not the fault of the company that produces them... onstar is a nice idea and if you don't want people knowing about whaat you are doing, don't sign up for. the problem that you are overlooking is not onstar but the federal government. the patriot act as well as a few other nicely placed acts allow for a federal court to retrieve any information by any means necessary. that is where the problem comes in. it wouldn't be an issue if the techs at onstar knew you were speeding. but if that was reported to police then the violation of privacy comes in, but that is not the onstar companies fault, it would be the fault of the federal gov't for allowing the police to obtain that information. onstar is not the only way to track people it is just yet another one... when these ways of tracking people get misused or get allowed by the gov't to be misused then it becomes an issue.

    the part that i feel is even more scary then the potential for it to be used as an invasion of privacy is the fact that a computer is now directly linked to your vehicle. first of all we all know how unreliable a computer can be. i have seen a computer crash like multiple times a day. what would happen if onstar crashed and the the computer monitoring sensors were capable of shutting down the engine. second, is with every computer system and anything linked to computers there is bound to be an exploit. malicious people will be able to find ways to use it to extract revenge on people. no more cutting break lines... just hack into onstar. it's a little scary.
    Learn like you are going to live forever, live like you are going to die tomorrow.


  5. #5
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Seems to me that a cell phone is much cheaper than the onstar service. No, you can't easily unlock your car doors with your cell phone, and your cell phone can't tell you your gas cap is loose (unless you're too close to it when you get a cell phone call ).

    Sure, cell phones are unusable in some places, but I don't want to give control of my vehicle to someone else and then pay them to do so! A lot cheaper and safer to carry an extra key in your shoelace or something.

    As for their privacy policy, who follows those? Just like Microsoft follows all their court ordered judgements, right? Besides, even if they follow their privacy policy, they STILL have the info in a database somewhere, waiting to be hacked or accessed by gov't supeana (sp?).

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Sure, cell phones are unusable in some places, but I don't want to give control of my vehicle to someone else and then pay them to do so!
    First, they do not have control over your vehicle. You are in complete control of where it goes and what it does. The onstar agents simply tell you things. i wont use it, for the simple reason that i dont need to have someone tell me my gascap is loose. also,

    As for their privacy policy, who follows those?
    I follow privacy policies. I read and understand just about everyone i have access to that relate to something im signed up for. i'm sure other people here do too.You should too.

    \"Look, Doc, I spent last Tuesday watching fibers on my carpet. And the whole time I was watching my carpet, I was worrying that I, I might vomit. And the whole time, I was thinking, \"I\'m a grown man. I should know what goes on my head.\" And the more I thought about it... the more I realized that I should just blow my brains out and end it all. But then I thought, well, if I thought more about blowing my brains out... I start worrying about what that was going to do to my goddamn carpet. Okay, so, ah-he, that was a GOOD day, Doc. And, and I just want you to give me some pills and let me get on with my life. \" -Roy Waller

  7. #7
    Senior Member RoadClosed's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    OMG I agree with Lord! Not another one

    Onstar isn't as sophisticated as you give it credit though. It's just a sat phone interface into computers that have been in cars since the 70s. They do crash, I know! MY POS Renault left me stranded in the middle of fking nowhere near Greece. It burned up and it was made in 1980! It would be like a decent sized scientific calculator crashing. Not likely but possible.

    Have to admit, that would be a nice thing to have if your loved one, like wife or child got stuck and some dude could adjust a setting and get you back on the road. Like my Cougar, it did the same thing, I didn't have onstar but the guy said I could drive on the check engine light based on other items I read back to him. The one I like is the guy calling on his cell phone and having the doors unlocked. That could come in handy, if you would be willing to sunscribe to it. I'll pass, personally but I woulnd't mind my old lady having it.
    For isntance, you could set it to call and report the instant an air bag is deployed. Not if your drunk that would be a bad thing! But if your child feel asleep and hit a tree that could just save their life to have the immediate location of the accident tranmitted with abulance on the way before another car could ever come down the road. As usual, the good and the bad are aparant. For me, it wouldn't work - I like to do 120 miles per hour on my scoot without a helmet. I have issues. The bike starts a nasty wobble around 140 mph

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Legal or not the FBI and CIA are pretty much going to do whatever they please. You may think most invasions of privacy would be illegal, but thanks to the Patriot Act and the "War on Terrorism," all Government officials have to say is that they think you were involved in some Anti-American Activities.

    As for Onstar
    If the surveillance was done in a way that was seamless and undetectable, the court would have no problem with it."

    Under current law, the court said, companies may only be ordered to comply with wiretaps when the order would cause a "minimum of interference."
    (source from PAK's link)

    The PATRIOT Act (a 342-page piece of legislation) was signed into law on October 26, 2001 and contains significant provisions expanding the power of law enforcement agencies to conduct electronic surveillance. Under the PATRIOT Act, law enforcement agencies have increased authority to use wiretaps, pen registers, and trap and trace devices, and can now require providers to disclose a wider scope of customer information pursuant to lawful requests.
    (source from


    CALEA was enacted in 1994 with the goal of allowing law enforcement agencies to keep pace with rapidly changing developments in communications technology. CALEA imposes a number of obligations upon telecommunications providers, including requiring that providers upgrade the technical capacity of their facilities so as to ensure that their equipment and services are capable of providing surveillance upon the proper request of a law enforcement agency. The law sets forth four "assistance capability requirements" that providers must be able to supply to law enforcement agents, including the interception of wire and electronic communications, the interception of any associated call-identifying information, and delivery of these interceptions to law enforcement facilities.
    (source from

    Now, while the monitoring cannot interfere with the actual Onstar service, any information that Onstar has can and will be given to authorities if requested; and if the FBI finds a way to monitor the vehicle with the Onstar hardware without interfering with the actual service, more than likely they will be able to do that as well.

    Privacy is a hard thing to come by these days, so you had better just pack an extra key.
    You shall no longer take things at second or third hand,
    nor look through the eyes of the dead...You shall listen to all
    sides and filter them for your self.
    -Walt Whitman-

  9. #9
    AO Soccer Mom debwalin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Erm, just a really quick side note about the gas cap...almost every car in the world now will display a check engine light if the gas cap is left loose. I would guess that has a lot more to do with them being able to tell the person it was because their gas cap was loose than them actually being able to "tell". Remember, you are hearing editted conversations in those commercials, and what you didn't hear probably went something like this:

    Onstar: Have you recently stopped to get gas?
    Caller: Yes, how did you know that?!
    Onstar: Is it possible your gas cap is loose?

    And yay, everyone is happy. And people who are in to that kind of immediate help and service from a complete stranger (and unable to read their owners manual) who hear that commericial think "whoa, now this is a service I need!!!" As was mentioned previously, Onstar is a service that you subscribe to, so it is not an immediate threat to your personal privacy unless you choose to subscribe. If I understand it correctly, and admittedly I may not, when you purchase a vehicle that is equipped with Onstar, you receive a subscription for X amount of time, and then unless you renew the subscription, it's just a useless little piece of plastic with a bunch of buttons in it.

    Personally, since I get lost about half the time I go anywhere, it would be useful to me to get back to where I'm meant to be going, instead of parked in a very scary looking neighborhood wondering how the hell to get home. At least they would know which scary looking neighborhood I was parked in
    Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.

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