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OnStar's "Family-Link" Invites Paranoid Parents, Spouses To Spy

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General Motors wants to make it easier for parents to spy on teens driving their cars. Or for spouses to catch their philandering partners.

Family Link, a new option now in pilot testing  for GM's OnStar safety and navigation service, will let owners check their car's location on an online map. It's billed as a way to make certain Junior's going where he said he would.

“Our subscribers have asked us for a solution to help them stay connected to their family when they’re on the road,” OnStar President Linda Marshall said in a release yesterday. “What parent hasn’t asked their teenaged driver to call or send a text when they arrive somewhere, only to not hear from them?”

Paranoid parents also can schedule text-message or email alerts for regular updates on a vehicle's location. And OnStar is exploring alerts for when a car speeds, crosses owner-set boundaries, or starts or concludes a trip.

Of course, there are other family members subject to GPS-based snooping. And with GM looking to spread OnStar outside its own vehicles, the system is set to become a staple of news reports on novel ways technology can help break up marriages.

Yesterday's launch of Family Link coincides with GM's push to sell its OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle) boxed system to non-GM owners. The company started selling OnStar-branded rearview mirrors in stores like Best Buy late last month. Yesterday also marked the launch of a TV and Web ad campaign pushing the aftermarket system as an upgrade to car safety.

With Family Link, GM is treading a fine line between appealing to worry-wart parents and putting off spouses who don't relish the idea of intrafamily spying. Until now, OnStar – best known for turn-by-turn directions with live operators, automatic alerts to authorities in the case of a crash, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and tracking stolen vehicles – would only share location data with the police, and only following a stolen-car report. 

Now that information in subscribers' hands, giving wives an easy way to see if their husbands are frequenting sleazy motels on supposed late nights at the office. Even drawing a boundary around the local strip-club district for text alerts isn't far out of reach. Although GM's marketing team probably won't play up those abilities, they won't hurt in drumming up media buzz.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.