Gee, thanks, Tom

GPS manufacturer TomTom seems to have run up against the Law of Unexpected Consequences:

Users of TomTom GPS navigation systems unwittingly helped government officials identify locations where speed cameras would issue the maximum number of citations.

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.

TomTom CEO Harold Goddijn was apologetic:

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. 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.

Viewers of Goddijn’s video have been generally unsympathetic to the company. Said one:

I understand that the collection of data for advancing GPS technology, travel times, and route optimization is VERY valuable, but what is much more valuable is the trust of your customers, which you lost, plain and simply, by being greedy, and playing both sides´╗┐ of the fence. All TomTom devices have already been replaced in my home, and the terrible iphone app has been deleted. Now please, take a hike.

And this was found in TomTom’s 2010 annual report [pdf]:

Concerns about privacy may result in users choosing not to employ all of the features of our product. 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.

Can I get a “duh”?





3 comments

  1. Ric Locke »

    5 May 2011 · 12:34 pm

    The TomTom management should cheer up. This may be a setback, but they can look forward to getting a fortune from the IRS.

  2. Douglas2 »

    7 May 2011 · 7:27 pm

    Of course good traffic engineering requires that to set the speed limit you do a survey of how fast people are driving, and set the speed at the 85th percentile.

    So if more than 15% of users were exceeding the speed limit, they should be raising the speed limit, or adjusting the road and markings to make actual hazards more evident so that people will slow down.

  3. CGHill »

    7 May 2011 · 7:34 pm

    Yeah, but that’s good traffic engineering, which is defined by how quickly you can get people from Point A to Points B through Z inclusive, as distinguished from the sort of engineering that seeks first to maximize revenue from fines. (See, for instance, any purveyor of red-light cameras.)

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