Revelations that both iPhones and Android phones store location data in unencrypted form has caused quite the stir over the last week, but if you were one of those contributing your outrage to the uproar, wait until you hear what TomTom has been doing with your GPS data.
In an apparent effort to avoid the PR disaster that’s stricken Apple and Google over this issue, TomTom has pre-emptively released information about its sharing of customer location data. The data it collects is most prominently used to help route customers around traffic jams, but it turns out that it’s also sent to law enforcement (in anonymous, aggregated form) so that they can prepare speed cameras and old-fashioned roadside stakeouts in hotspots where TomTom data reveals speeding is more common.
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Personally, navigation device manufacturers helping police find speeding hot spots with anonymous data doesn’t sound so bad to me. Call me a grandma, but in my opinion, the fewer speeders and drunk drivers on the road, the better, even if those people are getting themselves caught, contributing to their own eventual downfall on the roads they frequent.
Update: TomTom has responded to reports, issuing a statement documenting what it does with your data:
Dear TomTom customer,
Customers come first at TomTom.
When you use one of our products we ask for your permission to collect travel time information on
an anonymous basis. The vast majority of you do indeed grant us that permission. When you connect
your TomTom to a computer we aggregate this information and use it for a variety of applications,
most importantly to create high quality traffic information and to route you around traffic jams.
We also make this information available to local governments and authorities. It helps them to
better understand where congestion takes place, where to build new roads and how to make
We are actively promoting the use of this information because we believe we can help make roads
safer and less congested.
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.
This is what we really do with the data:
- We ask for your permission to collect historical data. You can opt in or opt out and can disable
the data collection function at any time.
- If you are using a LIVE device, you receive traffic information in real time and you automatically
contribute to generating traffic information.
- We make all traffic data anonymous. We can never trace it back to you or your device.
- We turn anonymous data into traffic information to give you the fastest route available and route
you through traffic jams in real time.
- We are working with road authorities around the world to use anonymous traffic information to help
make roads flow more efficiently and safer.
- Our goal is to create a driver community capable of reducing traffic congestion for everyone.