Suspicious spouses used to have to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars on private investigators to keep tabs on their significant other, but a new feature from General Motors' OnStar division can do it for just over a dime a day.
The new service, dubbed Family Link, allows owners of OnStar-equipped vehicles from Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac to track a family member through the OnStar website and receive email and text alerts when the vehicle arrives at a location or at a specific time.
OnStar vice president of subscriber services, Joanne Finnom, says Family Link is something subscribers have been asking for, and last year the company responded, enlisting 4,500 OnStar customers to test the service. Family Link was a hit, with Finnom saying the testers "told us it provides them peace of mind by staying connected to their family when they're on the road."
Family Link is being pitched to parents who want to keep tabs on their kids – the latest in a long series of products targeting minors with no legal recourse – but it could be used to track anyone driving an OnStar-equipped vehicle enrolled in the service. But with all location tracking services, the privacy and security implications are murky at best.
"It's troubling," says Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "Any time a new service like this is introduced you have to think beyond what's described in the press release."
"We are depending on subscribers to tell other family members that they've enabled the service on the vehicle." –OnStar
OnStar representative Cheryl McCarron concedes that, "We are depending on subscribers to tell other family members that they've enabled the service on the vehicle," but that's an obvious leap in trust, not to mention the security issues surrounding multiple family members having access to a shared account with one username and password.
Account security aside, the larger issue is maintaining a balance between anonymity and security, and as Higgins points out, "It's important to remember that you can provide a service that is valuable and useful and still be violating people's privacy."
OnStar will begin sending invitations to an initial batch of customers next month, with more invites going out in June before the service rolls out across the U.S. later in the year. Family Link is GM's first a la carte offering through its embedded OnStar system, requiring an additional $3.99 month on top of the standard monthly telematics subscription package. And while the service could extend to the recently introduced OnStar FMV system, GM isn't including the aftermarket mirror setup in the initial Family Link introduction.
This story originally appeared on Wired: Autopia on March 28, 2012, and was republished with permission.
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