The GPS system manufacturer TomTom have received widespread criticism in the past few days due to selling location data to the Dutch government for a profit. This has coincided with TomTom reporting first quarter net profits of £9.6million, up from £2.7million in the same period a year later.
In recent years TomTom have including location monitoring devices in their products, supposedly to improve the directions it suggests to motorists by adjusting routes due to traffic and average speeds. Few would have thought this information would be sold on to authorities, but this is what TomTom have been forced to admit.
The location data was aggregated and sold on to the Dutch authorities, who passed it on to police to ensure speed cameras were in areas with the highest potential for revenue making. Supposedly TomTom thought the data would be used to help the government understand causes of congestion and accidents. However, the police did not consider this to be cost effective, so they came up with the idea of using the data to set targeted speed traps, which has angered users.
TomTom have denied having previous knowledge that the data would be used as a means to creating higher revenue by police. They said:
“We 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 roads safer.”
“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.”
The market for personal navigation devices is expected to shrink by at least 15% in 2011 due to a combination of global recession and competition from substitutes such as smartphones and tablet computers, which contain software that performs the same tasks. TomTom considers the sale of location data to be a potential revenue stream to offset the fall in sales of GPS hardware products, which are far more profitable than software.
After a variety of recent revelations concerning location based products such as smartphones and now Sat Navs, people should be aware that any and all products with GPS functions have the potential to track your movements. Even if the companies involved do not pass the information on to other authorities, there is always the possibility of an online attacker being able to steal this data, as has happened with Sony’s Playstation 3 in the last month.