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GM Just Killed Its Program That Sold Your Data After Uproar

GM sold customer driving information to insurance companies by way of third-party brokers

2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV front
  • GM sold customer driving data to third-party brokers via vague terms and conditions agreements.
  • These brokers turned around and sold the data to insurance companies, who used it to set rates for their customers.
  • GM stopped after coverage of the practice was published, but other automakers still collect or sell customer driving data.

On March 11, the New York Times published a report detailing the story of Kenn Dahl. Two years ago, Dahl found his insurance costs for his Chevrolet Bolt spiked by 21%. The increase is the result of his driving habits, though Dahl has never been in an accident. Without his knowledge, Dahl had agreed that information on his driving habits could be given by General Motors to data brokers LexisNexis and Verisk. The data was shared with brokers via Smart Driver, GM’s driving insights app. 

Dahl told the Times, “They’re taking information that I didn’t realize was going to be shared and screwing with our insurance.” When the New York Times reached out for comment, GM said the responsibility for what data drivers share lies with the vehicle owners. However, we got a different response from GM. “As of March 20th, OnStar Smart Driver customer data is no longer being shared with LexisNexis or Verisk. Customer trust is a priority for us, and we are actively evaluating our privacy processes and policies.” General Motors was “actively evaluating” privacy processes, as it turns out. On April 24, GM announced that “customer feedback” led to the discontinuation of Smart Driver.

Smart Driver promised to help make customers better drivers by monitoring their driving behavior and aggregating the data into a score. The monitoring of someone’s driving habits by insurance companies might sound familiar. Insurers like Allstate and Progressive both offer programs that, via a dongle, watch over driver inputs like braking and acceleration, in addition to logging location data with dates and times. The New York Times reporter, Kashmir Hill, says she went through the enrollment process for Smart Driver, GM’s version of drive-reporting software. During enrollment, she wrote that “there was no warning or prominent disclosure that any third party would get access to my driving data.” Hill’s story found that some GM dealers may be incentivized to sign drivers up for OnStar, which Smart Driver falls under, through bonuses.

In the case of Dahl, his Bolt flagged 640 trips, noting various driving behaviors along the way, like Dahl’s reported two rapid acceleration and two hard braking incidents during a 7-mile trip on a June Thursday. Dahl obtained his report and discovered the data sharing under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Instances like these might be fed to an insurer, which can adjust (in his case, raise) rates for what it says are unsafe driving habits.

On April 23, Hill published a follow-up piece, which, in brief, shows that she and her husband were both enrolled in Smart Driver despite never opting in. Hill spoke to other owners who never opted in yet were also enrolled. GM tells Hill that she and her husband are part of a small group of owners who had their information shared but were told otherwise due to a “bug.” Insurance companies got their data, but the Hills and others like them couldn’t see that they had.

In addition to killing Smart Driver and unenrolling all GM customers from the program, GM says it has “terminated partnerships with LexisNexis and Verisk,” ending data sharing with the two as of March 20. General Motors also said it is working to enhance privacy controls for owners. New leadership has been instilled following the report as well. GM hired a new chief trust and privacy officer, Alisa Bergman.

Edmunds says

Insurers and automakers are using connected cars to watch over drivers’ habits, sometimes without their consent. While car insurance is something buyers have to take into consideration when purchasing a car, some may not be aware of what’s being done with their data. Automakers like GM promise to be more transparent about how it uses data, but the GM/Verisk/LexisNexis fiasco indicates that only public backlash will result in changes to company policy.