TomTom co-founder: Free driving maps on phones come at the expense of your privacy

TomTom co-founder: Free driving maps on phones come at the expense of your privacy
TomTom co-founder: Free driving maps on phones come at the expense of your privacy

Drivers who use free smartphone satellite navigation mapping apps may come to realise that free products often come at the expense of privacy, the co-founder of TomTom has warned.

Corinne Vigreux, who co-founded the location tech and satnav giant in 1991 and now currently serves as its managing director, said there is a growing consumer awareness surrounding the uses of their personal data.

TomTom has sold an estimated 100m satnavs since its first went on sale in 2004, but was hit heavily by the rise of smartphone-based navigation – particularly from Google Maps.

A fair hostess presents the new TomTom "GO 930 T" navigation system at the CeBIT 2008 trade fair on March 3, 2008. The world's biggest high-tech fair will be inaugurated on March 3 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as France is this year's partner country. The fair officially runs from March 04 to 09 and will draw some 5,000 exhibitors. AFP PHOTO DDP/ JENS SCHLUETER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read JENS SCHLUETER/AFP/Getty Images)
TomTom’s sales have suffered in recent years, but the company continues to sell around 3m physical satnavs a year (Photo: Getty)

“We have a very different business model to some of our competitors – we’re not selling your data. Your data is yours – we use it to make our product better by improving mapping and traffic information, but it’s anonymised and we don’t know who it belongs to,” Ms Vigreux told i at CES, the world’s largest technology show.

‘Privacy is key’

“We don’t sell advertising, and data privacy is something people will be more conscious about in the future.

“If you get something for free, people are happy, but I think there is a growing consciousness that perhaps free has a price and that price may be a little bit too high. Privacy is key.”

User privacy has been a key theme at this year’s CES, after Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer for policy defended the social network’s practices on a panel with Jane Horvath, Apple’s global privacy senior director, on Tuesday.

The vast majority of Google’s revenue comes from advertising, fuelled by data it collects on its users to serve them relevant and targeted adverts.

FAIRFAX, CA - DECEMBER 13: The Google Maps app is seen on an Apple iPhone 4S on December 13, 2012 in Fairfax, California. Three months after Apple removed the popular Google Maps from its operating system to replace it with its own mapping software, a Google Maps app has been added to the iTunes store. Apple Maps were widely panned in tech reviews and among customers, the fallout resulting in the dismissal of the top executive in charge of Apple's mobile operating system. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The arrival of Google Maps on smartphones dealt a deadly blow to smartphone sales (Photo: Getty)

TomTom issued an apology in 2011 after a Dutch newspaper revealed it had sold driving data collected from customers to the police to set speed traps for motorists, saying it had not realised the information would be used for such purposes and that individual customers were not identifiable.

While Google’s decision to bring free mapping technology to smartphones dealt the satnav business a critical blow, TomTom was able to survive thanks to savvy forecasting, Ms Vigreux explained.

Read More: British start-ups cautiously optimistic about the future despite Brexit uncertainty

“2008 was a nightmare. Google put navigation on phones for free and then there was the economic crisis – all in the same year. It was disruption to the max, the nightmare scenario.

“It would have killed most businesses, but we’d already started to diversify in anticipation. We started investing in technologies to help us really understand the road.”

TomTom has invested in technology to understand the road, its co-founder said (Photo: Getty Images)

The Amsterdam-based company sold its telematics arm (the division focused on monitoring fleets of vehicles using GPS and diagnostics) for $1bn to automotive giant Bridgestone Europe last year, and today it remains “a very profitable business with about 400m euros (€393m) in the bank,” she said, adding that around 1m of its physical satnavs are still sold each year.

While TomTom threw its own hat into the smartphone ring with the creation of its own smartphone navigation app, TomTom GO, it also serves as a data provider for Google rivalApple’s Maps app and Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform.

It is also working with German automotive firms Bosch and Daimler on new driverless vehicle technology to help them predict road conditions in order to use fuel more efficiently, and a real-time hazard detection service with Hitachi.

Rhiannon Williams is reporting from CES in Las Vegas

Everything you need to know about driving an electric car in winter conditions

7 safety tips for driving in heavy rain and floods

Staying loyal to your car insurer may be costing you up to £270 extra per year

The driving theory test is changing this April - here’s what you need to know