Onstar Will Let Chevy Volt Owners Share Their Data Again, Soon

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Continuous electric miles in 2011 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car [photo: David Noland]

Continuous electric miles in 2011 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car [photo: David Noland]

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Owners of the Chevy Volt range-extended electric car are often pretty technically advanced.

Many are conversant not only with auto technology but also with apps and software analysis tools.

Two weeks ago, the online Volt community erupted when OnStar abruptly shut stopped giving data access to VoltStats.net, a collaborative tool that let almost 2,000 Volt owners analyze their own and aggregated electric and gasoline use.

Now, GM and its OnStar unit have reversed course.

The company plans to post a statement--later this afternoon or possibly tomorrow morning--that will explain the reasoning behind its actions, said Volt communications manager Michelle Malcho.

[UPDATE: The statement is now available on the Chevrolet Volt Facebook page. It reads:

We want to apologize for any inconvenience associated with VoltStats.net. We understand that many of you value the energy tracking that VoltStats.net provides, but we want to ensure that all access to your and OnStar's data is properly authorized.

We are working with the developer to get the site up and running so that you will not have to provide your OnStar ID and password to obtain VoltStats data. In the end, this is the best of both worlds, where our data is better protected and you will have the energy tracking data provided by VoltStats.net.

Thank you for your patience while we work through this issue.

GM wants to reassure Volt owners--some of its newest and most dedicated--that the VoltStats app they prize will regain access to that data, once security changes designed to protect user data are implemented.

The 1,900 users of VoltStats have each given the app their Onstar login and password; it regularly then downloads their cars' operating data, adding it to a database of similar data from all users.

That allowed owners to compare their electric and gasoline usage, combined fuel efficiency, and mileage covered to those of other owners, and to the average of all owners.

OnStar uses this data in the EcoHub app it is now testing, but VoltStats offers various additional metrics that OnStar doesn't provide.

On October 13, OnStar denied access to VoltStats--meaning that while Volt owners had given it permission to retrieve that data, GM was not permitting that.

As noted by InsideEVs.com two days ago, VoltStats operator Mike Rosack felt frustrated by his conversations with the company.

Malcho, the Volt spokeswoman, said that OnStar took the action not because it disliked VoltStats, but to protect confidential user information that the app could have exploited.

When a Volt owner hands over a login and password, that gives access to the owner's entire OnStar user profile.

This includes access to credit-card information and personally identifiable data that, Malcho said, users most likely wouldn't want to open up to a third-party app.

Chevrolet Volt OnStar EcoHub App

Chevrolet Volt OnStar EcoHub App

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After GM and OnStar engaged in two weeks of legal and technical discussions, Malcho said, the participants came to a conclusion last night.

The new procedure will ask a VoltStats user to give permission to acquire the car's data not by providing an OnStar login, but a surname and some vehicle identifier, perhaps the last four digits of the VIN.

OnStar will use that information to validate the owners, and then download their usage data twice daily into a growing spreadsheet that will be conveyed to VoltStats.

Malcho said the new procedure should be implemented within a week or two.

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Comments (13)
  1. I hope it's a good compromise. It protects privacy, establishes that owners can access their data, and minimizes load on GM's servers.

  2. Who owns the data your car provides: This should be an agreement between the GM and the owner. (Not sure how that works for leases?)
    It shouldn't be left up in the air. There may be a hidden agreement already.
    I'm sure GM and OnStar would not want to be denied the data after all the work they have put into the OnStar system.
    Remember, the meta data from your car is used to diagnose you car and alert you to a problem or needed service so you don't have to bother with routine trips to you dealer for service.

  3. And alert OnStar if you have a crash!

  4. I would have to say that OnStar's website for the Volt kind sucks...

    Half of the time I try to access it and it hangs. I think it couldn't handle all the traffic that Volt owners generate. OnStar needs to seriously upgrade it if it thinks that is the future of car and internet connectivity...

  5. I'm disappointed that GM couldn't work out an agreement without locking out Voltstats for a month.
    As to the idea that Voltstats could get ahold of credit cards, why are credit cards numbers stored in an unencrypted state on their site anyway?
    Losing access to Voltstats has been the worst service action I've had from GM since I bought my Volt. I hope they don't repeat this service mistake.

  6. Best news I heard all day!

  7. It is great news that GM & On-Star are recognizing the value of working with their community of users.

    Data services provided by an automotive infotainment system are like any online service. When a manufactures takes on role of a information service provider they need to embrace lessons learned from existing online communities.

    1. value in maintaining a community
    2. requirements for secure access & privacy controls (let user control their data)
    3. need for, & benefits of users sharing their content
    4. a great user experience, that's consistent and non-restrictive
    5. ubiquitous access to data services, (in vehicle, at home, or via mobile device)

  8. I'm glad that GM/OnStar tried to protect all of our Credit Card and other sensitive data. It looks like they came up with a good solution and are spending resources to keep Volt owners happy and their data safe. Anyone who ever has been a victim of Identity theft should have an appreciation for this...

  9. Why can't OnStar use a tokenized standard (like an OAuth or OpenId provider)? There's really no reason for a 3rd party to store username/passwords to access their API.
    Furthermore, I really wish they would open their API -- even if its only allows an owner access to their car's data. I would love to have access to my data beyond a csv download from voltstats or the sad/slow infographs on OnStar's site.

  10. Hopefully the new API has the ability to report the cumulated kWh consumed. For a car that mainly use electricity, I find it strange that it doesn't track the kWh usage beyond a trip (with a popup message upon car shut down).

  11. You can find out about it on Onstar summary...

  12. This just hit the forums:

    "Just a heads up:

    VoltLink has been removed from the Windows Phone marketplace. While it should keep working for everyone, unless OnStar actively starts blocking it, if you uninstall it or upgrade your phone, you will not be able to reinstall the application.

    OnStar sicked their legal dogs on the application, and frankly, I don't feel like arguing or trying to negotiate the way Mike has with VoltStats. Both VoltLink and VoltStats serve (at no cost to GM/OnStar) to support their customers, and increase the value of the products they're selling but apparently that is not a value to some part of the organization that is responsible for these actions." -continued on next post

  13. "I don't expect that complaining to anyone would make any difference with this, and unfortunately since us Volt owners don't pay for our OnStar, we can't even vote with our wallets and cancel the service. So, it is what it is. Sorry, guys!"

    This guy spent hours doing what onstar wouldn't do so these people could have the same functionality we all do. They were obstructionist to the app and it functioning. Unlike Voltstats they refused to communicate or offer help even though the guy reached out to them before and after the app was made. It's just disgusting if you ask me.

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