I received a call from a representative at General Motors' OnStar Tuesday morning giving me a heads up on an announcement being made during the day about reversing the controversial proposed changes to its service agreement. Two things are of note regarding this welcome policy reversal. First and most significantly, OnStar is reversing its proposed policy regarding the data connection. Under the new plan, OnStar will not keep the data connection on a vehicle live when OnStar service is discontinued. Vehicles equipped with OnStar technology, but where service has been discontinued, will not be tracked. Second, OnStar has committed that any future service, tracking, or the like will require a default of opt-in.
OnStar recently sent e-mails to customers telling them that effective Dec. 1, their service would change so that data from a customer vehicle would continue to be transmitted to OnStar after service was canceled — unless the customer asked for it to be shut off. "We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers," OnStar President Linda Marshall said in Tuesday's press release. "This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers' hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our more than 6 million customers."
Marshall went on to say in the press release that if OnStar ever offers the option of a data connection after cancellation, it would only be when a customer opted-in. And then OnStar would honor customers' preferences about how data from that connection is treated. She explained that maintaining the data connection would have allowed OnStar to provide former customers with urgent information about natural disasters and recalls affecting their vehicles even after cancelling their service. "We regret any confusion or concern we may have caused," Marshall said.
OnStar's reversal of its proposed change in policy came about after publicity and outrage surrounding OnStar's plan to track and share more data from its cars. The plan prompted Congressmen, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, to call OnStar's move "one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory." In my Monday column, I pointed out that companies like OnStar that do consumer track need to explain the benefits of the tracking and allow consumers to opt-in. OnStar's reversal of policy is good news. Consumer tracking, whether across town or across the Internet, should always be an opt-in. OnStar is setting an example I challenge others to follow.
Jeremy Anwyl: Vice Chairman of Edmunds.com. Follow @JeremyAnwyl on Twitter.