The story breaking this week is that the navigation GPS maker TomTom sold speed information that it collected from its users to the Dutch police, so the police could set up speed traps. This was an abhorrent breach of trust that forces consumers to think twice about a company that would do such a thing.
This is a shame since TomTom has developed some of the finest routing algorithms in many parts of the world. People should note that when using any GPS device, including the ones incorporated in the Android, Nokia and iPhones, the routes they pick for you vary widely. I find that it's an interesting exercise to have the passenger pull out his or her device and compare its routing with mine while we're going someplace. It's a silly but revealing game, as you will find the routes vary greatly.
So who is to say that while the folks at TomTom apologized for this stupidity that they are not actually routing customers through speed traps as part of the deal struck with municipalities? Personally, I would get a new device immediately. And if I was caught in a known speed trap in Holland (who knows where else TomTom made this deal), I'd consider some sort of legal action or at least ask for my money back.
I don't want to pick on TomTom (although it's kind of fun, since it was one of the most arrogant companies I ran into at the most recent CES), but companies that pull stunts like this need to be taught a lesson if only to dissuade others.
I don't mind owning products that are compromised if I got them for free. But the last time I looked, this product is expensive. There was no mention or precaution with the purchase that TomTom was working with any police departments that might end up trying to ticket me for my driving activities. A big warning sticker on the box would be nice.
It's good that the company apologized for this action, but what kind of money-grubbing mentality comes up with this sort of idea in the first place? I think it has to do with the generally cavalier attitude within the tech sector regarding privacy, culminating with the prevailing "privacy is dead, get over it" mantra. Thus, working hand-in-hand with law enforcement to screw the customers is seen as a fine idea.
Here's where this leads. If you think cameras on street corners are bad, how about a new law that allows law enforcement to tap all your GPS data to give you retroactive tickets for all your speeding, whenever it happens? Why not? The small municipalities need money. Besides, if you have nothing to hide and are a good little boy or girl, why wouldn't you want this? The only people who would object are obviously law breakers who need to be watched carefully.
So get on board with big brother. We already know that the iPhone collects data (for your convenience) and Google is tracking you from your phone and online. Right now, it's stored in some anonymous fashion, but how long do you think that will last?
So maybe TomTom is ahead of the curve and was merely caught doing what everyone else is lining up to do: sell out their customers to the police state. And, just for the record, if anything should be illegal, it should be speed traps, which impede the flow of traffic and are an out-and-out scam. But that will never happen.
All I know is that the next time I go shopping for a stand-alone GPS, TomTom will not be on my short list.