With the recent fiasco facing iOS and Android devices and their retention of location data it’s nice to know one company out there isn’t leaving speculation to chance but is openly admitting that they provide customer location data to government officials:
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.
Although they anonymize the data it’s still quite possible to retrieve who location data applies to. For instance you can use records of credit card translations, cell towers the person’s phone was connected to, cameras to find what car was where and when, etc. It would be possible to setup a system to tie this anonymized data to drivers and write them speeding tickets using that system as evidence.
That’s a theoretical problem, a real problem is the fact that the data is being used to setup police revenue sources such as speed cameras. A Dutch firm has openly admitted that they use TomTom customer data to setup speed traps. So this anonymized data is actually being used to cost you money for something that isn’t actually dangerous as currently implemented (in other words speed limits aren’t actually a safety limit but an arbitrarily selected number).
Anonymous collection and transmission of data is a threat with any device capable of determining a location and sending data. Cell phones are the best tracking devices on the planet as a side effect of how they work. But TomTom has openly admitted they send not just location data but data relating to customer travel times which is then given to government entities. This providing of data sets up a mechanism that could allow for government agencies automatically writing tickets or performing other actions that will cost you money. Personally I find that disgusting.
Let this also be a lesson to those who don’t actually read the end user license agreements of the devices and software they use.