TomTom manufactures GPS navigation devices like this one from its competitor Garmin.
TomTom manufactures GPS navigation devices like this one from its competitor Garmin. Seth Perlman/AP
Over the past week, U.S. consumers have been talking about their smart phones keeping tabs on their location. In the Netherlands, another kind of GPS scandal is brewing: The government bought aggregate global positioning system data from the automotive navigation company TomTom and then used it to install speed cameras in places where drivers are most likely to speed.
As the Wall Street Journal puts it, that's hardly an "enhancement its paying customers would appreciate."
Yesterday, TomTom's CEO Harold Goddijn put out a statement on YouTube, saying the company collects anonymous information to help build its intelligence about about traffic and routing. The company also sells the data to governments, he said, so they can improve safety, for example, and know where new roads need to be built.
Instead, the Dutch press reported, police in the Netherlands used the data to find stretches of roads where drivers were likely to break the speed limit and they installed speed cameras in those places.
"We don't like that," said Goddijn, "because our customers don't like that. And we will prevent that type of usage of that data in the future."
The Wall Street Journal reports that TomTom also collects data from Vodafone mobile phone users. TomTom then sells that that real-time data service, which allows navigation around congestion, to its customers. For 50 euros a year that service also includes the ability for users to receive warnings about the locations of speed cameras.
When this news hit, The Los Angeles Times reports, TomTom had just slashed its 2011 sales forecast. Mobile phones are quickly making GPS navigators less popular. TomTom, reports the Times, planned to "bolster slipping demand for GPS devices by focusing on services such as selling traffic data."