How TomTom navigation apps use your data
Data privacy is complex. For many, it seems it’s intentionally convoluted to understand. For every website we visit or app we download, we see the same question popping up on our screens: will you allow your data to be shared? But what does it actually mean? And what does it mean at TomTom?
As we face this question, we don’t always know what’s behind it. We accept without knowing what data we’re agreeing to share or how the data we’re sharing will be used.
When you share a personal story with your friend, you trust that friend to respect your privacy and to not tell other people. Similarly, when you accept to share data, you trust the business to respect your data and use it ethically for the right reasons. You don’t want to find out that other companies secretly ran away with your details.
Nowadays, people are increasingly skeptical about online tracking and cookies with only 23% of global consumers feeling in control of their personal information. Rightly so, as shown by the rising number of data breaches in the United States, which jumped from 419 in 2011 to 1,862 in 2021.
As shown by its week-long commemoration, Data Privacy Week is from January 22 to 28, data privacy has acquired stronger recognition and awareness in the last 15 years and needs to be a top priority when companies make decisions about their products and how they use data. With this in mind, and as a TomTom navigation app user myself, I sought to better understand what data I am sharing while using TomTom GO Navigation app and how it’s later used by the company.
Not all data collection is bad
When you download a TomTom app for the first time, you will see a notification asking for your permission to send your location information to the location tech company. As with any other app, you can always change your permission status at any time in the app privacy settings or through your phone. However, some apps, such as TomTom AmiGo, rely on location data to work and therefore can only be used by accepting to share it.
When using GO Navigation, you can allow TomTom to use certain journey information which includes time, location, direction, search interaction, product usage and other behavioral data without it being associated to who you are. The location tech compafny uses journey information to abstract and analyze data without revealing your device or identifying you. Unlike other mapping companies, the data collected doesn’t share any personal information such as whose device it is. TomTom doesn’t need to know who you are to make your driving experience safer and more efficient.
Andy MarchantHead of Product Marketing
If you decide to share your journey data, you’re not only helping TomTom make better products, but you are also allowing the app to help you reach your destination faster, in a safer and more comfortable way. The app will send you real-time information relevant to where you are, such as live-traffic data or speed camera warnings.
When millions of people share their data in this way, everyone benefits from each other’s data — getting improved routing, more accurate ETAs and more accurate traffic data.
For example, if some devices connected to TomTom are moving at an average speed of 50 kph on a road where the speeds are usually around 100 kph, the app sends drivers traffic updates telling them there’s congestion ahead -- their ETA gets adjusted accordingly too.
“People can see that, when they share their data, they get great services back and the more that happens, the better the experience they get in the future,” Marchant adds.
When you’re driving with the app in the background, the network still collects your location information. Even without navigation enabled, it will send you relevant road updates and safety alerts. Your data will also be used to inform others of traffic and road conditions.
The app automatically closes itself after 10 minutes to discontinue the collection of your location data. This is a very important feature, which, unlike other apps, reinforces the fact that TomTom only collects journey information and no other personal data, which isn’t needed to make your driving experience better anyway.
Your personal details are in the app, but still protected
To protect your identity, different techniques are used: such as encryption and temporary random identifiers to prevent data from being easily linked back to you or your device. Within 24 hours of shutting down the app, TomTom automatically and irreversibly erases data that has been previously shared and could re-identify you or your device. It doesn’t know where you have been, and it can’t tell anyone else.
TomTom's products are also ad-free, so you can say goodbye to all the annoying ads usually popping up on your devices. The company is structured around maps and location data and has no purpose to collect data on and attribute it to individuals. Advertising companies need to know about individuals for improved targeting, but it’s a simple fact that that’s not TomTom’s business model.
No advertising is a key point of an active approach to protecting user data, as it ensures that individual personal data won’t be gathered, infringed or manipulated. TomTom takes data that can help it improves it map and location services, and that’s it.
What is the future of location data?
Maps of the future are expected to be smarter, richer and more detailed than ever. It sounds like it will take more and more personal data to build these maps. But as Andy Marchant tells me, personal data in mapping will be more about the personalization of maps.
“The map of the future will use more of your personal data to personalize what it shows you. It will be so much more tailored to the individual based on their history and activity that your personal data will become vital to really tell you what you need and not give you information that is irrelevant to you,” says Marchant.
Indeed, if TomTom is to realize its map of the future being more personalized, it will also need to consider its approach to data privacy. Currently, it doesn’t need to rely on personal data long term, but if it wants to suggest people POIs or routes based on their history, it will. How it ensures these remain free from infringement or manipulation will need to be considered carefully. However, TomTom is resolute on data privacy being non-negotiable in its products.
“What will differentiate companies is how they monetize the data, some will still use it for marketing purposes while others, such as TomTom, will only use it to provide a service based on your data.”
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