Thursday, September 29, 2011

OnStar and the Outer Limits

Every once in a while you run across a story that stimulates a reaction. In this case it was recently reported that OnStar would be selling customer data, nothing unusual about that. What became apparent as I read on here and here was that this data collection would be occurring even if you were not subscribing to the service. In other words, the OnStar unit is always on and always in contact with home.

Again data collection today is pretty much endemic. Everything you do is recorded.  Every time you use your credit you are disclosing where you are and at what time you made the transaction.  But the issue that I intend to review has nothing to do with tracking or privacy but the potential that the companies that you bought the product from can continue to CONTROL that product.

We have already witnessed some occurrence of post-sale control. Witness the Amazon Kindle boondoggle where Amazon, post-sale, ironically removed some Orwell books. Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle.  Then there is the Sony PlayStation, where Sony, post-sale, removed some features. Sony Sued Again For Removing PS3 Linux Feature. Whether these instances are isolated or an indicator of a coming future tidal way of similar actions is currently un-discernible.  But what is clear is that the potential is there.

Headlines from Utopia noted that the US is moving towards "Get ready for pay-as-you-go driving." Where GPS devices and associated black boxes will record your driving. While the article raises the typical privacy concerns, the real concern from the article is that “The device the government wants to install on vehicles does more than record miles,” said Cliff Young of the Privacy Awareness Institute.  “It can also override on-board GPS systems, block cell phone signals, and tap into national databases containing information on individual drivers.  It’s an electronic Trojan horse.Feds to require black box event recorders in all new cars.

As a quick wrap, the TV Show "Outer Limits" had this tag line: "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We can reduce the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits." Quote from IMDB

Welcome to Orwell's "1984" where Big Brother will be able to control your electronic devices without your knowledge and/or consent even to the point of "bricking" it. So if your OnStar equipped vehicle comes to a slow stop in the desert at the dead of night you might want to reflect on why.  Be nice Big Brother is listening.

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