Facebook and OnStar face similar privacy accusations

Facebook and OnStar face similar privacy accusations

Summary: Facebook and OnStar are in the spotlight over strikingly similar privacy allegations. Read this post for your own protection.

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Facebook and OnStar, the automobile help service from General Motors, face new accusations of possessing similar features that can bypass users' reasonable expectations for privacy.

FACEBOOK. Following a blog post by prominent geek, Dave Winer, technology writer and entrepreneur Nik Cubrilovic wrote that logging out of facebook.com is not sufficient to stop the company from tracking your online activity:

Even if you are logged out, Facebook still knows and can track every page you visit.

According to Cubrilovic, his analysis demonstrates Facebook continues to track your movements even after you log out of the website, a practice that many would find deceptive and unacceptable.

Cubrilovic believes that explicitly deleting all Facebook browser cookies is the only solution users can take to counteract this privacy threat. Unfortunately, manually deleting cookies after every Facebook session is a relatively advanced task and a hassle. A Microsoft knowledge base article on this topic doesn't even give instructions on doing so; instead, it offers pointers to yet more articles

ZDNet's Emil Protalinski wrote about this issue and a Facebook employee issued a non-official denial. Protalinski explains Facebook's comments:

Cubrilovic raises some good points and has some interesting findings, but reaches incorrect conclusions. The cookies in question are useful to Facebook for various reasons (providing custom content, maintaining the service, and protecting its users), but not for tracking people.

Of course, this raises the question why the company has not formally addressed these complaints with an official statement. Given Facebook's long history of accused privacy violations, the company should give such accusations a much higher level of priority and response.

ONSTAR. The OnStar service collects data about user's movements even after they unsubscribe and discontinue using the service. According to the Associated Press:

The OnStar automobile communication service used by 6 million Americans maintains its two-way connection with a customer even after the service is discontinued, while reserving the right to sell data from that connection.

U.S. Senator, Charles Schumer of NY, calls OnStar's practices, "one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory." Schumer has asked the FTC to investigate.

The company's recently updated its privacy policy to explain:

Unless the Data Connection to your Vehicle is deactivated, data about your Vehicle will continue to be collected even if you do not have a Plan. It is important that you convey this to other drivers, occupants, or subsequent owners of your Vehicle. You may deactivate the Data Connection to your Vehicle at any time by contacting an OnStar Advisor.

Plain language translation: OnStar will collect information unless you explicitly call the company and tell them not to. OnStar recommends that you should explain this tracking to anyone riding with you in the car. OnStar seriously thinks this is okay???

WHAT YOU CAN DO

If you use Facebook, remember this cardinal rule: nothing you post online is truly private. Be aware that Facebook seeks your personal information to fulfill its mission as a business and will continue to push the boundaries of privacy. If you want something to remain private, do not post it to any online service, including Facebook.

OnStar users should be aware the company continues to track even after you unsubscribe. When you cancel service, tell the company to discontinue all communications with your vehicle.

On my ZDNet Project Failures blog, I discuss surprising, and sometimes shocking, activities in the world of enterprise software. The Facebook accusations (whether true or not), coupled with OnStar's policies, demonstrate that privacy lapses are a deeply important form of technology-related failure.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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9 comments
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  • RE: Facebook and OnStar privacy policies: Invasive and deceptive

    Ever tried to cancel an OnStar subscription? That's a nightmare in itself.
    Badgered
  • RE: Facebook and OnStar privacy policies: Invasive and deceptive

    It's like Hotel California. You can enter, but you can never leave.
    Droid.Incredible
  • RE: Facebook and OnStar privacy policies: Invasive and deceptive

    While Facebook's actions are utterly creepy and sickening, I'd expect nothing less from the service. Zuckerberg has said repeatedly that privacy is overrated, in one way or another.
    CarriBugbee
  • RE: Facebook and OnStar privacy policies: Invasive and deceptive

    The author aids and abets (minimally, true, but still) the very things he decries. How? Check this statement:

    "On my ZDNet Project Failures blog, I discuss surprising, and sometimes shocking, activities in the world of enterprise software. The Facebook accusations (whether true or not), coupled with OnStar???s policies, demonstrate that privacy lapses are a deeply important form of technology-related failure."

    The key word here is "failure". By referring to these activities as "failures" he imparts to them a certain defensibility as being "accidental" or "unexpected" hence providing a bit of white-wash for what are actually completely intentional activities.

    These things he describes in this column are not failures. They are systems that are working exactly as designed, exactly as intended. They are actually successes, not failures. They are successful implementations of activities and policies that are harmful to consumers in general while creating benefit for the implementing business. The benefit for the implementers of course was intended to be primarily secret or at least out of sight of the people who were being taken advantage of, but data gathering is well known throughout modern businesses as a way to make money. These mechanisms are designed to gather saleable data about consumers, hence were implemented with full knowledge and approval of the businesses and their leaders. Nobody creates an "accidental" data gathering function and then "accidentally" makes money selling that data.

    These things are immoral, they are unethical, they may be illegal to some degree, but they are not "failures".

    Mr. Krigsman, don't be so coy ... the systems described in this column were put in place on purpose, and the people putting those systems in place knew exactly what they were doing. The simple truth is that they don't care about consumer rights, or abstract concepts such as personal privacy as it applies to the sheep they are attempting to shear. Please leave out the "whitewashing" language in future columns.
    Gravyboat McGee
    • RE: Facebook and OnStar privacy policies: Invasive and deceptive

      @Tivolier

      Well put.

      WRT <i>On Star</i>, the <b>ONLY</b> way I would buy a vehicle with <i>On Star,</i> is if it were <b>ripped out completely</b>.
      fatman65536
  • RE: Facebook and OnStar privacy policies: Invasive and deceptive

    Wonder why a former OnStar user would NOT ask the device to be deactivated:
    1. Do they think cancelling is sufficient?
    2. Are they not aware that it can be deactivated?
    3. Maybe they think deactivating will render future sale of the vehicle an issue if OnStar can not be reactivated? That begs the question - once a device IS deactivated, can it, in fact, be reactivated?
    Willnott
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