Navigation device maker TomTom has apologized for supplying driving data collected from customers to police to use in catching speeding motorists.
The data, including historical speed, has been sold to local and regional governments in the Netherlands to help police set speed traps, Dutch newspaper AD reported here, with a Google translation here. As more smartphones offer GPS navigation service, TomTom has been forced to compensate for declining profit by increasing sales in other areas, including the selling of traffic data.
On Wednesday, Europe's biggest satnav device maker apologized, saying it sold the data believing it would improve traffic safety and reduce bottlenecks, The Associated Press reported.
“We never foresaw this kind of use and many of our clients are not happy about it,” Chief Executive Harold Goddijn wrote in an email sent to customers. He went on to say that licensing agreements in the future would “prevent this type of use in the future.”
With the revelation, TomTom becomes the latest company to raise privacy concerns about location data it holds on its customers. Over the past week, questions have been raised about Apple, Google, and Microsoft and the location data stored or tracked by the iPhone, and Android and Windows Phone 7 devices, respectively.
TomTom has said that any information it shares has been anonymized, but customers shouldn't take such assurances at face value. Past claims about the anonymity of data sometimes turn out to be horribly wrong – witness the debacles involving AOL's sharing of 20 million searches and the release of Netflix users' viewing habits. It's not hard to fathom a scenario in which data supplied by TomTom could be used to figure out sensitive information about its users, such as where they live and work. What could possibly go wrong there? ®
TomTom has added a statement to its website that effectively repeats CEO Goddijn's comments above.
We are now aware that the police have used traffic information that you have helped to create to place speed cameras at dangerous locations where the average speed is higher than the legally allowed speed limit. We are aware a lot of our customers do not like the idea and we will look at if we should allow this type of usage.
It goes on to say that collection of data is purely opt in by customers and is intended to provide them with real-time information about traffic conditions. It also repeats claims that TomTom makes all information anonymous and that the company can "never trace it back to you or your device."