GM shared our driving data with insurers without consent, lawsuit claims

Motorists file class action alleging breach of contract and more after their premiums went up

Two New Jersey drivers claim they now pay more for their car insurance because General Motors (GM) and its OnStar app snooped on their driving behavior without their consent and sent metrics to "various insurance carriers."

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As the lawsuit [PDF], filed in Georgia on Friday, concedes, some vehicle purchasers do knowingly consent to having their personal driving habits and behavior monitored and handed on to third parties when they agree "to specific safe driving programs ... and to installing dongles in their vehicles." But the plaintiffs claim they agreed to no such thing.

Barbara Figlio and Morris D Gordin, both Chevy Bolt drivers, are proposed as representatives in a would-be class action on behalf of all people whose "personal, private driving behavior or Driver Behavior Data" was allegedly "collected by GM, through various modules located in their vehicles ... without their knowing consent to unauthorized third parties, including OnStar, LexisNexis, Verisk and various insurance carriers."

Figlio and Gordin say that, had the alleged "unauthorized intrusion" by GM's OnStar unit not occurred, they would not have incurred damages in the form of "increased insurance premiums" and difficulty in "obtaining vehicle insurance at reasonable premiums elsewhere." They also allege privacy breaches, breach of contract, and more.

OnStar, according to the suit, was founded in 1996 and produces driver assistance software for GM automobiles including Chevrolets, Buicks, Cadillacs, and GMCs.

Both drivers say they were "enrolled" in OnStar but never "knowingly agreed" to have their Driver Behavior Data "transmitted to unauthorized data brokers."

The suit adds:

Even for those that actively opted into The OnStar smart driver plan ... the software is marketed as a means of personalizing and enhancing "the driving experience" via improvements to safety, entertainment, navigation, and control of the vehicle in which the software is installed or linked. The software is not advertised as a means of invasively collecting consumer data for sale to third parties.

The complaint also refers to the "WTF-level data collection" probe the Mozilla Foundation undertook in September 2023. The investigation is said to have found that "a lot" of car companies "share and sell" data about owners, a report that prompted an investigation by US Congress. The pair also cite another probe by the New York Times that the suit alleges "confirmed" what it termed "rampant privacy violations by the automobile industry generally, and GM, specifically."

Without implying the pair are bad drivers, the lawsuit raises an interesting proposition. If the claims were true, there would be some individuals' whose incredibly safe driving would be passively acting to lower the premiums.

'Out of context'

The suit claims the "risk score" is created after GM's OnStar allegedly transmits "private Driver Behavior Data to ... [consumer reporting agencies] LexisNexis and Verisk", which is "then transmitted" to insurance companies "without the driver's knowledge or consent" and is taken "out of context."

This, according to the complaint, is because the data was "surreptitiously collected," meaning it then precluded the drivers from providing a "reasonable explanation as to the various driving patterns depicted in this data, such as sudden stops." It's an interesting point. When is it an idiot doing a "brake check" in a road rage incident, and when is it simply evidence that a vehicle is coming to a safe stop in a short period of time because the truck ahead of it is swinging from side to side?

Other metrics the suit alleges were recorded and transmitted without their consent include "average speed, frequency and intensity of acceleration and braking, percentage of time that the speed exceeds 80 mph" (128 kph+), as well as "late-night driving habits."

The plaintiffs are claiming GM, Onstar, LexisNexis and Veris Analytics violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, as well as privacy law, contract law, and consumer warranty legislation.

The suit seeks compensation, damages, and attorneys' fees.

A GM spokesperson said: "We are reviewing the complaint and have no further comment at this time." ®

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