OnStar Off

When I purchased a new vehicle in September 2004, I wanted side impact airbags, but they only were available as part of a “Safe and Secure” package that also included OnStar which I did not want. A salesman tried to convince me that I was getting a year of OnStar service “free”, but obviously part of the price of the S&S package paid for the OnStar subscription.

The emergency services of OnStar are appealing to me. But the privacy implications are not. Now that my year of “free” service is over, I have disabled the system by pulling the fuse that powered it.

OnStar will automatically connect with an OnStar advisor if the airbags deploy. There is also an emergency button for manual activation. In addition, OnStar provides services like remote unlocking and stolen vehicle tracking, and can be used as a hands-free cellular phone if you purchase an additional celluar plan. All these services work by means of an integrated GPS system and cellular telephone.

Should the government wish to find or track a vehicle equipped with OnStar, it is very easy for them to do so. They can also activate the OnStar and listen to any conversations occurring in the vehicle, without the driver and passengers’ knowledge. Some people tried to tell me that my concern over privacy was overly paranoid, but it turned out that the FBI actually lost a lawsuit in which it was revealed that they have been subverting the OnStar system for exactly these purposes. However, the basis of the ruling was that the FBI deprived the car owner of the normal emergency use of the OnStar system. This wouldn’t apply if they used the system to track an unsubscribed vehicle, or if they developed a means to use OnStar for tracking without disabling its normal functioning. It seems very likely that they have done this.

If you carry a cell phone around, it can be used to track you, but a normal cell phone does not include a GPS, so the location must be determined by triangulation based on signal strength, which is not very precise. You can turn off a normal cell phone any time you like. The OnStar system is on at any time the vehicle is powered, and there’s no way to shut it off with the vehicle powered short of removing the fuse as I have done.

In my vehicle, the fuse for OnStar is also used to power the rear seat entertainment system, but I don’t have that option so as far as I know only OnStar is affected. The OnStar buttons and indicators definitely are not functional now, but I have not yet confirmed that the system is completely disabled; it is possible though rather unlikely that the GPS and cellular portions of the system may get power from another fuse. To be completely certain, I should find the OnStar unit and verify that no power is reaching it, or use a spectrum analyzer to verify that the cellular portion is inactive.

I’d actually like to take advantage of the cellular and GPS hardware, but on my own terms. Certainly using the installed GPS antenna for an aftermarket GPS navigation system should be easy. But it would be even better if it turns out that the OnStar unit uses standard OEM modules for the GPS and the GSM cell phone, as the latter uses higher power than a conventional handset and also has the handsfree support. Possibly I could put a different SIM card in the unit to use it with my own cell phone account rather than the one OnStar provided.

Another possibility would be to install switches on the dash that allow me to turn the OnStar unit on and off, disable the GPS, and install an indicator that would show whether the cell phone was active; that way the system could not be remotely activated for eavesdropping without the driver’s knowledge.

This entry was posted in Car, Freedom and liberty, Privacy. Bookmark the permalink.

137 Responses to OnStar Off

  1. thanix says:

    Google, no, I mean use startpage (google is cia) Alex Jones. Listen,(ignore his rants) learn and get a clue.

  2. Joe says:

    The industry term that you are looking for related to data logging is “Event Data Recorder” and the device that is used to recover the data is called “Crash Data Retrieval System”.

    Go to the “Vehicles with an EDR on board” link on this page to see a list of all cars with an EDR installed:
    http://www.harristechnical.com/cdr.htm

    If you want to buy your own CDR system go here:
    http://www.cdr-system.com/

    Good day to all

  3. Freddy says:

    If I unplug my onstar fuse in my 2008 Malibu will this disable the onstar from be track in the event of a crash, I just dont want the repo man to find me just yet

  4. Freddy says:

    does anyone know were the onstar unit is located on a 08 Malibu

    Thanks

  5. Ansley says:

    Eric, I appriciate your concern about the protection of the right to privacy. But lets be realistic here. We violate our own right to privacy everyday when we choose to use a credit card to make a purchase knowing full well that merchant track our spending habits and the credit card companies has a record of what and where you made your purchase. You go on line by choice even in this forum, there is a record that is beyond your ability to control. We gave out so much information about ourselves in our daily exchanges with others intentionally of otherwise that the issue of privacy becomes less important to us unless we mention the actions of government in our lives. Then the Right Of Privacy becomes a big issue. The real issue should be the Right Of Freedom Vs The Right Of Privacy. We want these rights to freedom to be protected and guaranteed by government but don’t infringe on our precious right to privacy to do so.

    This brings me to Onstar. My safety and the safety of my family has top priority in my reality. The world we live in today is far more dangerous than prior years because most everyone drives a car and everyone wants to be where they want to be yesterday. Onstar provides me the security of knowing that I have connection to emergency resources when seconds counts. The hands free feature allows me safe communication accessabillity without endangering my self or others because of inattentive driving habits. There are other valuable intergrated systems that gave me peace of mind as I navigate the complexities of every day life. At no time as I go about my day do I worry about of my government is listening to my conversation or monitoring where I am going. This is the realities of my world and I hope it similar to those that share this world with me.

    This application of fear about big brother is watching you has its merits to those who subscribe to those concerns. But in a pratical sense I have not real concerns because this technology works both ways. Show me all they ways this technology is detrimental to our right to privacy and i’ll show you several ways this technology enhances our right to safety and security. You might ask at what price and I’ll say, it like buying insurance. its your individual circumstance that matters.

  6. Eric says:

    Ansley,

    Suppose there was a new service that would install a small device with a microphone and speaker in each room of your house, with panic buttons, so that in an emergency you could just press a button and communicate with th

  7. Eric says:

    Ansley,

    Suppose there was a new service that would install a small device with a microphone and speaker in each room of your house, with panic buttons, so that in an emergency you could just press a button and communicate with the authorities. This could improve your safety, right? Now suppose you found out that the authorities could at any time, without your knowledge or consent, eavesdrop on you anywhere in your house. Would you still want the system installed in your house?

    This is what OnStar does in your car.

    OnStar does provide a valuable service, so it should be up to you as the car owner to decide whether you want it. However, OnStar should tell you up front about the possible surveillance, or you can’t make a properly informed decision.

    You are using the argument that the innocent have nothing to fear, and that the police and FBI aren’t likely to put you under surveillance. That is completely missing the point. The innocent need privacy just as much as anyone, and a system that can easily compromise that privacy WILL be abused.

    Even if the police and the FBI never abused it, which is unlikely given how many other abuses of power they’ve been caught on, it’s also possible that a third party could abuse it. The system operates over the public cellular phone network, and it would only take knowledge of your OnStar unit’s phone number, and some technical expertise about the workings of OnStar, to spoof the system and eavesdrop on you.

  8. Ansley says:

    Eric, I really don’t take my privacy lightly. I live in a society that values and is concern about privacy just like you. Unfortunately we do not live individual in bubbles. I don’t know if you have travel outside the United State to other less evolve countries, if you have’nt it would be a good educational opportunity for you. Yes I understand that my government, our government does violate many of the rights that we all take for granted and like you I am concern about that as I am sure every civil minded American does but when I look at the freedoms ,though somewhat limited, that I and my family enjoy I find my self having a sort of peace of mind. I am not on any political platform for government or the fears of intrusion into my privacy by government. If I was I would get rid of my sell phones and any electronic device that radiates a signal.

    Do you understand some of the scary things that can be accomplish with cell phones? If you have an active land line in your home, you have that active microphone in your house that you eluded to. Someone with the right technological know how can make your land line an active microphone and you would have no knowledge of it. They are devices that you and I can purchase today to actively violate anyones privacy we choose to for whatever reason and non of it would be legal. This is just the surface, do you understand now why I as most people are less concern about Onstar or the potential for government to use it to entrude on our percercive privacy?

    Fortunately for us as an Americans we do have a system of rules and laws, however imperfect, that protects and gave us avenues to address the issues and fears that you are concern. Those instances where the government were brought to court is evidence of our collective abilities redress these wrongs. Our society is not perfect and individuals like yourself is needed to remind us of that so I am not suggesting that you change what you doing, just keep in mind that we are not mindless in our perception to things that impact. Take a moment to go ourside your reality to realities of other countries. The global work is shrinking…….think about it. :-)

  9. trapper01 says:

    I hate to burst everyone bubble but I worked for the ASA which is connected directly to the NSA and you are are full of it. If at any time the government wants to tap in on On star they don’t need there permission and the NSA dosen’t need a warrent either they have control of the satilites and anyone that thinks different is in fantasy land. So dream on and I don’t care what onstar employees say or any other person that works for cell phone companies or anything related to it I know know the government can do I have seen it.

  10. Eric says:

    Onstar does not communicate via satellite, but that detail aside, it is certainly the case that the government has many ways to spy on people. I doubt that the NSA would have any difficulty subverting the Onstar system should they wish to do so.

  11. bob says:

    Hey I found the microphone and just installed a switch on the microphone wires (DPDT so it is really OFF!) Seems perfect!

  12. jeff wright says:

    can someone track and find my cadi. it was a gift when my mother passed away in 08′ . i don’t have a account with on star. my wife went to house sit for our son while they were in florida. she was to be back in one week. its been three months and she has went to some lady that help weman until they get their divorce. so this lady is hiding my wife and may dead mothers cadi. can antone out there track and locate my cadi. the lady can keep the wife i just want my mothers cadi back. my wife tells me shes not going to give it back so i can sale it and not buy her a car to get around. but shes left me here with nothing but my harley to get around on for 3 months. police will take a stolen car report and arest her thats not what i want to do . i just want my mothers car back. can any body help me my email is redthunder72764@ comcast.net if it can be tracked and get me an address that would be owesome… i have a couple of cop buddys i ask they keep track of that stuff now and they will get in trouble. i even called onstar no help. nobody cares anymore. please help with my problem………………redthunder72764@comcast.net my email…….

  13. Watchman says:

    Anyone willing to trade privacy for security deserves neither. And if enough people feel that way we will have neither.

  14. Enrik says:

    I guess the auto industry should provide for options to the clients. The dealers should be properly trained and authorized to enable and fully disable these options base don the buyers decisions. Tracking has ts advantages while it also has some disadvantages. Well, everything int he right hand will be good but when it lands on the wrong hands with the wrong intentions, there you have your problems.

  15. ChuckB says:

    Eric said:
    Sorry, no. Most products on the market are not engineered with features that allow remote surveillance. For instance, my television has no such feature.

    Are you sure that your television has no such feature?

    =======================

    Strange News – October 19, 2004

     
    Ore. Man’s TV Emits Int’l Distress Signal  
     
    October 19, 2004 12:38 PM EDT  
     
    CORVALLIS, Ore. – Chris van Rossman’s television came with a VCR, DVD player and CD player – plus a hidden feature that had a rescue team beating a path to his door.
    On the night of Oct. 2, the TV began emitting the international distress signal – the 121.5 megahertz beep emitted by crashed airplanes and sinking boats.
    The signal was picked up by a satellite, relayed to an Air Force base in Virginia, then to the Civil Air Patrol, then to officials in Oregon. Most signals are false alarms, but they’re all checked out, and soon, men in Air Force uniforms, a police officer and Mike Bamberger, a Benton County Search and Rescue deputy, were at van Rossman’s apartment door.
    “I have a pretty spotless record, so I wasn’t overly concerned – just a little confused,” van Rossman said. “The police officer asked if I was a pilot or had a boat or anything.”
    They left when he said “no,” but came back when they narrowed the location of the signal to a wall in van Rossman’s hallway, Bamberger said.
    The solution to the mystery was nailed when van Rossman turned off the TV before answering the door the second time. The signal stopped, too. An inspection of the television confirmed it was the source.
    “Their equipment was just bouncing everywhere as they turned it on and off,” van Rossman said.
    Neither investigators nor officials at Toshiba Corp. know exactly what caused the problem, Bamberger said Tuesday. Toshiba plans to replace the television and examine the offending one.
    “We have never experienced anything like this before at Toshiba,” said spokeswoman Maria Repole.
    In the meantime, van Rossman is keeping the set unplugged – to avoid a fine of up to $10,000 per day if his TV cries wolf again.
     
     

    Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    ————————————————–

    What radio device is built into HDTV’s??? Surely this wasn’t a ‘tumor’?

    The assembly line guys were laughing there backsides off when the TV got to the end-user, and the news media got the story.

    What is SUPPOSED TO be transmitted? And to whom???

    Thanks for letting the cat out of the bag (I still have the story if anyone is interested).

  16. ChuckB says:

    Hmmm…

    So I googled this story today – 6 years later, and found this:

    Any engineers here that can translate this just a little more?

    Originally Posted by Some /. nerd
    The frequency of the NTSC color subcarrier (the TV color system used in analog video standards in North America and Japan) is defined as exactly 5 MHz times 63/88. That works out to 3.579545454…. (infinitely repeating 54′s) MHz. The horizontal scanning frequency is then defined as a 2/455 times the color subcarrier frequency. That works out to 15734.26573426…. (infinitely repeating 573426′s) Hz (very nearly the original monochrome horizontal frequency of 15750 Hz). This is where the problem lies. 121.5 MHz divided by 7722 is exactly the same frequency as the horizontal in an NTSC color video signal.

    The 7722nd harmonic shouldn’t really be that strong, right? Usually not. But the harmonics can get to be very strong overall even at such high orders when dealing with modulating the high voltages needed for the horizontal sweep. There should be some low pass filters that prevent that from getting into the VHF range. But if the filters are absent, or were incorrectly installed, or were damaged somehow, and if some wires formed some resonance near 121.5 MHz (like wires going out to cable, speakers, etc) … a wavelength of about 2.47 meters or 8.1 feet … it is possible that harmonic, and a bunch of others near it, could be enhanced and radiated.

    The local oscillator in the tuner is a remote possibility. But it would have to be tuned to be receiving a video carrier at 75.75 MHz based on the common satndard of 45.75 MHz for the IF stage in the tuner. But there is no TV broadcast on that frequency in the US … though I could not rule out there being something on that frequency from a cable system. Still, it wouldn’t be an expected place for a TV to tune to. But if the TV has a non-standard IF frequency, the local oscillator getting on 121.5 MHz by some expected channel could be possible. Those leak a lot and it’s how the snoops can tell what channel you are tuned to by spying on the RF emitted from your house.

    If just this one TV had the problem, then apparently it must be a manufacturing defect or shipping damage (or maybe user damage or tampering). If it were a design problem, I’d sure we’d hear more about it. That probably rules out the CPU clock frequency.

  17. Jerry Jones says:

    The Government now owns 70% of GM (onstar) They’ll take what ever information they want and used it for whatever they please. Enough said.

  18. Dave says:

    disconnect the antenna .

  19. Tom says:

    Folks might want to check out the new privacy policy that goes into effect in Dec. 2011. The will have the right to sell data from your OnStar

  20. Eric says:

    They claim to have the right to sell your location and speed data even if you don’t subscribe to the service! One more reason to physically disconnect your OnStar unit.

    Jonathan Zdziarski’s blog post
    Wired article
    OnStar Privacy Statement

  21. Coot says:

    Regarding the possibility of governmental snooping or spying by anyone else, it reminds me of a few great quotes I once heard;
    1. “The person who would trade his liberty for security deserves neither” unknown
    2. “This republic was not established by cowards; and cowards will not preserve it. ~~Elmer Davis
    3. “The perfect slave thinks he’s free.” unknown

    As for me, I will disconnect it. I have lived a long life. And much of it was without seat belts, helmets, cell phones and OnStar. While they are great inventions, they do not provide me with more liberty. And I am perfectly capable of calling for a Cop or a Fireman. I pay for my insurance and I own a gun or two or three. I think I feel secure enough without giving up anything else. History shows us that females tend to seek security at the cost of freedom. And males seek freedom and liberty at the cost of his life sometimes. It’s just nature. So I’ll teach my wife to shoot so she won’t trade our freedoms for security.

  22. Guest says:

    @ Dave > Disconnecting the antenna isn’t enough. If the unit still has power it will have a reduced capacity to receive the GPS satellite signal and communicate with the cellular network, but in many cases it will still be able to do so, just through the coax connection. Turn the power off by disconnecting its power connector physically. Better yet- take the unit right out of the vehicle.

    A lot of people are posting “how tos” on disabling or removing OnStar boxes. Just search “how to disconnect onstar gps unit” and a ton of pages will come up. There are ones specific for most models now too.

    To all the people discussing real-time monitoring: yes, officials from various 3-letter agencies can indeed turn on your microphone, listen to what you’re saying as you say it, and watch where your vehicle is going on a map in real time.

    Have a look here: http://www.tonyrogers.com/news/onstar.htm

    It’s done through the cellular system, not via some “satellite signal”. All they have to do is cough up a warrant and OnStar will give them full, real-time access. Note that, thanks to the Patriot Act, some agencies can even write their own warrants without having to do that inconvenient “appear before a judge” thing.

    Now get this:

    The fact that you don’t have an OnStar subscription doesn’t stop them from continuing to scoope & store your data, as described in the blog post.

    Here’s the kicker, though. Even if you ask them to “turn off” your OnStar unit data collection, all it means is that they deactivate the wireless connection and stop collecting data.

    If someone comes calling with a warrant that convinces them, they can reactivate the wireless connection and give your 3-letter friends complete real time access to your location & conversations.

    The only way to avoid being monitored via you OnStar unit is to physically power it off. Preferrably, you should remove it from the vehicle.

    (Note, I avoided using the phrase “valid warrant”. Valid or not, it just has to convnce the OnStar person to do what they want them to do)

  23. Guest says:

    Just a postscript to the above post.

    Many paranoid types have been posting about the 3-letter agencies that star in Hollywood productions (CIA, NSA, DOD . . . )

    What’s the 3-letter agency you *really* want to be concerned about, though, should they decide they’d like to track you or eavesdrop on your conversations for a while?

    The IRS

  24. daniel says:

    Kinda funny to read the arguments that disabling this is silly and paranoid… It’s all over the news today that they’ve been abusing the hell out of this system for years whether you’re subscribed or not…

    A Cobain lyric comes to mind… ‘just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you…’ …heh

    the truth is history is a chronology of abuse of privlige… and the mass graves of those who thought we were better than that…

  25. f9pro says:

    I think as vehicle owners we have the right to CHOOSE if we want to be tracked/monitored or not. As of 12/2011 Onstar removes that choice unless you call them and have the data connection disabled. This means by default Onstar is watching you. I cancelled my subscription, requested data connection be disabled and had the antenna connection removed

    I did all of that BECAUSE I HAD THE CHOICE TO DO SO.

    If Onstar wants to collect data/track customers and sell the information to third parties then I will NEVER be a customer again!

  26. hoofhearted says:

    OK, I am reading about all this nifty functionality based on the internal GPS and cellphone in the OnStar unit. I bought a Yukon in 05 and used the free year of OnStar, but didn’t want to continue to pay, so cancelled it. I paid cash for the car, so I feel that it is mine including all hardware within. I would love to be able to take over all this nifty hardware and be able to do what an OnStar operator can do remotely from my home PC. Is this possible? I have read some pages where people have taken over the GPS and linked it to their homegrown navigation system and others where they have take over the audio functions. I want more, I want to be able to unlock my doors from my PC. Technically, I know it is possible, because the OnStar operators posses no “magic”. Has this been done? Any links to some nice “hack” pages? Or if the encryption of the OnStar is so infeasible to crack, can you purchase a replacement unit that you can plug your own sim car into or such?

  27. LVMYCAMARO says:

    Here’s a piece of info that will put many at ease on what OnStar tracks. I called OnStar back in 2012 to obtain a report of calls made to them for directions to specific addresses I went to in 2011 to show records for my company and lawyers. Here is what I received.

    OnStar provides summaries of records in response to insurance, civil, and vehicle warranty claims. Due to the length and nature of your request we will require a subpoena or request from law enforcement to provide the information you are seeking. Please reply if you are able to narrow the time frame of your request to a specific date.
    I used OnStar less than 20 times the whole year. I did narrow the time frame down to a couple months and OnStar sent the report by mail. Unfortunately, the tiny report had the correct addresses, but the dates were off by a day and times were not accurate either.
    I am not upset with OnStar. Very happy with their service and help and friendly service associates. I only commented because you all are paranoid. Even where you traveled to and from is not accurately saving in their system by region so I have no problem with insurance companies or warranty issues being sent info from my car. Keep all your service records and take care of your car and the car will take care of you. Simple as that.

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