4/28/2011Cops Grab Motorist GPS Data to Set Up Speed Camera Traps
Data from motorist GPS units handed to Dutch police for the purpose of setting up speed traps.
Users of TomTom GPS navigation systems unwittingly helped government officials identify locations where speed cameras would issue the maximum number of citations. The Dutch firm took immediate responsibility Wednesday for selling consumer data that was, in turn, used against its customers.
TomTom's latest units feature a SIM card that enables two-way communication with a central server. The idea is to have millions of users transmit real-time speed and location data to a central server creating an up-to-the-minute picture of traffic conditions. This allows other users to know where jams are occurring and allows the navigation device to route around trouble spots. The firm claimed it was unaware of a more sinister use.
"We learned today that police in The Netherlands are using that information to identify road stretches where people in general and on average are driving too fast," CEO Harold Goddijn said in a video statement. "They use that also to put up speed cameras and speed traps. And we don't like that because our customers don't like it. We will prevent that type of usage of our data in the future.... What we don't want is that we have unpleasant surprises for our customers who are helping to create that information."
Goddijn insisted that the information was shared with local authorities so that they could better understand road usage and plan engineering improvements. In a written statement, the firm promised to modify its licensing terms with government officials to ensure such uses would be prohibited. The company stressed that it only collects anonymous speed data and location information, so it would not be possible to identify particular speeders. The company's swift response to a Dutch media report exposing the police use of the system was likely motivated by a desire to avoid a significant market risk.
"Concerns about privacy may result in users choosing not to employ all of the features of our product," the firm's 2010 annual report warned. "If these or other public opinion issues arise in connection with our products or across the industry, our business, our brand, results of operations or financial condition could be materially adversely affected."
At the CTIA Wireless show in Orlando, Florida last month, TomTom announced it would provide its database of worldwide red light camera and speed camera locations to third-party developers. A news release explained the system would help drivers "avoid fines." Quarterly earnings for the company released Wednesday were down significantly compared to the previous quarter. The firm expects shareholder earnings will remain flat for the rest of the year.