TomTom plans to use customer journey data to provide more timely updates to its road navigation software, but has moved to allay privacy concerns by promising this data will be private and secure.
TomTom offers a digital base map of the road network which motorists can then customise with their own travel information such as more direct routes, features on routes suggested and correcting errors.
Simon Hania, vice president of privacy and security at TomTom, said at Gartner's Business Intelligence and Analytics Summit 2015, attended by V3, that TomTom plans to crowdsource that information to build up a database of travel routes.
"We are allowing users to change that map. You report errors, and we'll make sure we get these errors checked, vetted and approved within 24 hours so you will have a fresh map every day instead of three months. We're not there yet, but in two or three years we will be," he said.
Hania explained that this data can come from many sources including TomTom's own GPS hardware, smartphones running the company's app, and satnav technology built into the infotainment systems of many modern cars.
Harvested data can also be used to help the public sector by providing insight into traffic flows. This allows for better road planning and could even assist with the placement of new hospitals on routes where travel times to the location are as short as possible.
TomTom also wants to encourage drivers to share travel information with the firm, as that data will improve its overall navigation service, as the video below explains.
Doubt around data use
However, Hania said that the use of people's travel data is a sensitive matter. "Privacy means a lot to a lot of people. To most it resonates with self-determination and non-interference, typically what you want in a car," he said.
Issues around data privacy hit TomTom in 2011 when it was accused of providing travel data to the police to help them decide where to establish speed traps.
The company was then accused of providing personal data to the authorities which could be used to issue drivers with speeding fines.
Hania claimed that this was not the case and that the police were simply using TomTom maps to see where the actual traffic speed was below the legal limit and therefore would not need a speed camera to be installed.
"They used it to optimise taxpayers' money," said Hania, going on to explain how TomTom was found not to have breached any regulations.
But as a result of this, Hania said that TomTom must take more action to better communicate how it uses customer data.
He outlined how TomTom now inform customers on how it will use travel data and ask for explicit permission beforehand.
Furthermore, Hania outlined how the data is encrypted, anonymised, mingled with other data and stored on secure servers with any reference to its owner stripped out.
According to Hania, TomTom and other navigation product providers must integrate these data privacy measures from the start of any new product development if they are going to gain the trust of customers.
He concluded by saying that personal data needs to be collected in such a way that it will be used only to build products that benefit customers.
"If you cannot explain to your users what you are doing and why, maybe you shouldn't be doing it," he said.
The use of data is a divisive subject. Visa's head of analytics champions focusing big data projects on making money, while others recognise that privacy concerns around the benefits of big data must be addressed.
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