TomTom became the latest technology company to be embroiled in a privacy row when it emerged that the Dutch satellite navigation company had sold driving data collected from customers to the police.
The company was forced to issue an apology to its customers after a Dutch newspaper revealed that data, including records of the speed driven, had been used to help police set speed traps for motorists.
Apple, Microsoft and Google have all recently faced questions about location data collected by their mobile phone systems.
TomTom provides data to local and regional governments in the Netherlands to help identify traffic bottlenecks and indicate where new roads might be needed.
The company is under pressure to sell more data and services, as profits from selling its satnav hardware decline in the face of competition from mobile phones with free navigation services. In January, the company unveiled a traffic database covering Europe and North America, aimed at giving governments and corporations a tool to analyse road networks. Content and service revenues from such projects now account for 36 per cent of revenues.
TomTom shares fell on Wednesday when the company revealed a fall in first-quarter sales and lowered its revenue forecast for the year from €1.52bn to €1.425bn. It said it now expected the market for personal navigation devices to shrink at least 15 per cent this year.
One customer complained on the company’s discussion board: “For me the issue is that TomTom are not that explicit about how they will use your info when you purchase the device.”
Harold Goddijn, chief executive, said he had not realised the information would also be used to catch speeding motorists. He said TomTom would change its licensing agreements to prevent it being used in this way in the future. Mr Goddijn also sought to reassure customers that the data given to the police had been anonymous.
“At no point has the individual privacy of customer been compromised. We cannot link the data back to an individual, nor can the police,” he said.
Technology experts have remained sceptical over such reassurances, however, pointing out that in past security breaches, such as when AOL, the US internet company, accidentally released 20m search results in 2006, it was still possible to infer personally identifiable information from the logs.
TomTom sells data to governments around the world but said the Netherlands was the only place in which it had been used by the police. TomTom asks customers for their permission to collect data when they log on to the company’s website to update their GPS devices. It says it receives billions of driving measurements each day from tens of millions of customers across Europe and North America.