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Tom Tom Sells GPS Info To Dutch Cops 204

Posted by Soulskill
from the whole-different-kind-of-public-relations dept.
jfruhlinger writes "As smartphones with GPS capabilities wear away at the dedicated GPS market, vendors like Tom Tom need to find new revenue streams. Tom Tom decided it would be a good idea to 'share' (i.e., sell) aggregated data from their users to Dutch law enforcement. The company claims they assumed that the data would be used to improve traffic safety and road engineering, and were shocked, shocked to discover that instead the police used it to figure out the best places to put speed traps."
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Tom Tom Sells GPS Info To Dutch Cops

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  • Again? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2011 @01:46PM (#36002212)

    Did this story come from the Department of Redundancy Department?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by v1 (525388)

      it should have. I posted in a recent related thread forecasting this exact same thing would happen. Really, is anyone surprised by this? Lately the law seems to be a lot more interested in finding ways to boost their revenue than to protect the public.

      • Re:Again? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cpu6502 (1960974) on Monday May 02, 2011 @02:28PM (#36002728)

        >>>finding ways to boost their revenue than to protect the public.

        I'm one of those who thinks the LAW needs to be changed, not the enforcement. i.e. Go ahead and put cameras on redlights and all along highways. Catch lots of people speeding. And then change the law to be more reasonable, such as 85 on the interstate (which is actually designed to handle 120 per the original Congressional act). Setting speeds artificially low at 65 or 55, when everyone is driving 80, and the road engineers recommend 80, makes no sense.

        • Except, of course, it is in the best financial interest of both the "lawmakers" and the "law enforcement" (not to mention all the private ex-cop/ex-military contractors involved) to lower the speed limit further. More revenue that way and the "voter" has no real recourse anyhow (corporate stooge A vs corporate stooge B). The usual arguments about how "speed kills" and "fuel economy" can be successfully utilized all the way down to speed somewhere around 0mph.

          So, let the good times (for a select few at the

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by berwiki (989827)
          I initially modded you up, but I have to comment and strip my points.

          I can't find the exact statistic now, but I remember reading how the percent of fatal accidents skyrockets as speed increases...this tidbit supports my statement above:

          Speeding increases the crash energy by the square of the speeds. For example, when impact speed increases from 40 to 60 mph (a 50 percent increase), the energy that needs to be managed increases by 125 percent! IIHS [iihs.org]

          Plus, if you set the speed limit to 85, how fast do you t

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Yay, math!

            In other news, did you know that, as impact speed increases from 5 mph to 25 mph, the energy that needs to be managed increases by 2400 percent!? That is just stunning! I think that we must start considering the children here, and lower all speed limits to 5 mph immediately. And ban driving in parking lots. With all of the obstructed views, it is just too dangerous, and I am not going to be held responsible for teaching my children about running into streets blindly.
            • by berwiki (989827)
              I think there are extremes on both sides. 5mph being on the 'too slow' side, while 85+ probably being 'too fast'.
              but you know, this is slashdot, so slam away instead of contributing.
              • by AK Marc (707885)
                Having gone 85+ legally on the open road, I'd have to say that there is no "too fast" that is right for everyone, and with proper lane discipline (a la autobahn), mixes of speed can be reasonably safe.

                And, in my experience, there's nothing that could ever be said to someone who thinks 85+ is always too fast that would be met with logical and reasoned response. Perhaps he has my experiences as well and just decided to skip a little ahead to the inevitable conclusion. I'm form Texas. I've crested a hill i
                • In Montana, the only real speed limit I noticed was how fast you can go around a mountain bend without flying off into oblivion.

                  Same goes for parts of Arkansas. Locals must think Highway 7 is just peachy. We call it the highway of screaming death. You look at the speed limit and laugh. You'd have to be insane to actually go that fast along those turns.

                  I found one highway in Oklahoma where the speed limit was 75, though, and it was just a straight needle off into infine nothing (this *was* Oklahoma). I'd nev

          • I wouldn't be driving much over 85, if at all, if the limit were that high to be honest. I feel comfortable doing 80-85 on the NJ Turnpike (I95) as-is; setting the speed limit at 85 isn't going to change that.
          • by cpu6502 (1960974)

            >>>Plus, if you set the speed limit to 85, how fast do you think people would be driving then?

            80-to-90 is what they drive in states with 85mph speed limits.

          • by sudnshok (136477) *

            There have been many unbiased studies done which have concluded that having a large differential in speeds between vehicles is far more dangerous and responsible for far more accidents than the actual speed itself. Also, studies have found that increasing the speed limit does not cause drivers to exceed the new limit and in fact sometimes actually reduced the average speed of drivers.

            Unfortunately, legislators set rules and regulation based upon unfounded hysteria, gut feelings and revenue purposes instead

          • by guruevi (827432)

            Given that cars usually don't go much faster than 90-120 and suck at mileage and maintenance at those levels I don't think it will be a huge problem unless you give everyone exotic sports cars. 80 is a good speed and you'll get much better mileage on cruise control than continuously accelerating and braking for slow people that drive 50 while everyone else drives 65. My car doesn't even go into it's 5th gear at 55mph unless I maintain the speed for a while so I'm usually stuck in 4th. You'll also get less t

          • Re:Again? (Score:4, Informative)

            by sjames (1099) on Monday May 02, 2011 @04:54PM (#36004332) Homepage

            Evidence suggests that no matter what the posted speed, people will drive exactly as fast as they feel safe driving. Unfortunately, they may feel safer than they actually are and that's where the trouble starts. Measures that make a road feel less safe inevitably cause people to slow down. The only thing the posted limit changes is the size and number of tickets.

            • by raddan (519638) *

              Evidence suggests that no matter what the posted speed, people will drive exactly as fast as they feel safe driving.

              That's interesting, and anecdotally, seems to make sense. But I suspect speeding tickets have more than "no effect", since I personally changed my driving habits after receiving one (and after having to pay the premium for such behavior on my insurance for years). Care to share links to studies?

              • by sjames (1099)

                There are far too many references to list them all, but start with the Arizona DOT [azdot.gov], then try here [ibiblio.org]. From there, google driving speed limit safe.

                The BC Ministry of Transportation has a good report in pdf form here [gov.bc.ca].

          • Having driven through states or at least areas of states with the speed limit at 80 (or higher) I can attest that most people on the roads do not drive that fast. They maybe go 75. If we increased our speed limits up to 80 or 85, I really don't think people would go much faster, at least not for a number of years. Yes, some would still go faster but 85 in a car is quite fast and not a lot of people are really comfortable at that speed.
        • by eth1 (94901)

          And then change the law to be more reasonable, such as 85 on the interstate (which is actually designed to handle 120 per the original Congressional act). Setting speeds artificially low at 65 or 55, when everyone is driving 80, and the road engineers recommend 80, makes no sense.

          The problem with raising the speed limit higher than 70 or so is that a lot of cars can't handle that speed. Maybe when they were new, but I see a lot of mobile trash heaps (or just obviously unmaintained cars) that I wouldn't want to be anywhere in the vicinity of travelling that fast. Things are probably a bit better now with new cars required to have tire pressure monitors, but even then, I know a lot of people that totally ignore the warning light. So, doing the responsible thing (slowing down) would ju

        • by geekmux (1040042)

          I'm one of those who thinks the LAW needs to be changed, not the enforcement. i.e. Go ahead and put cameras on redlights and all along highways. Catch lots of people speeding. And then change the law to be more reasonable, such as 85 on the interstate (which is actually designed to handle 120 per the original Congressional act). Setting speeds artificially low at 65 or 55, when everyone is driving 80, and the road engineers recommend 80, makes no sense.

          Uh, just curious, did the "original Congressional act" take into account the fact that there are still accident-prone humans behind the wheel of that 120MPH "design"?

          And I'm also curious, are the road engineers also taking into account the massive aggregate increase in (foreign) oil consumption when everyone starts driving faster and faster while even hybrid fuel economy drops into the shitter?

          We can't even keep the driving while texting problem under control with the speeds they're at now, I can't imagine

        • by kimvette (919543)

          And then change the law to be more reasonable, such as 85 on the interstate (which is actually designed to handle 120 per the original Congressional act).

          . . . and those laws were based on what 1960s' suspension and brake technology can handle. Now the limit on those designs should be much higher, given that practically every car in showrooms today will pull .7g lateral acceleration (most will do .8 or better, and many will do better than .9), have disc brakes all around (so little to no fade), will tend to

    • Well, it did say that Tom Tom was shocked, shocked.

    • In the spirit of repetition, I'll just leave this link here...http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2111968&cid=35965884 [slashdot.org]
  • Repost (Score:5, Informative)

    by ThePolkapunk (826529) on Monday May 02, 2011 @01:48PM (#36002240) Homepage
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      But a blogger at IPWorld needs you to drive up his page and ad clicks!

    • Re:Repost (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Monday May 02, 2011 @02:14PM (#36002576)

      Repost indeed.

      Also, just to recap the actual events...

      TomTom asks users if they would like to share 'anonymous' (since leaving place X and returning there every weekday is kinda indicatory) traffic information with TomTom in order to improve services. The fine print says that TomTom can also make this information available to 3rd parties.

      One of those 3rd parties is a research company. They take datasets and provide condensed reports based on them.

      One of the reports they generated revealed either A. where people were speeding or B. simply what speed people were driving. Not individual users - just a breakdown of numbers. N data points, X% of those N > 120kph, Y% between 100kph and 120kph, etc.

      This report is what the police apparently use to decide that if every day there's 1,000 people going 140 where they're only supposed to go 100 (arguments of whether 140 is safe etc. is another story), they should place some speed traps there.. be that to make a safer situation, as a cashcow, or simply because they felt like annoying the speeding drivers.

      That's it. There wasn't a direct line from TomTom to the police. In addition, that same information is used by the government to determine if perhaps an extra lane should be added, or whether the speed limit should actually be increased (it's usually environment/noise regulations that limit roads to a certain speed).

      Now TomTom, pretty much pandering to their audience (the ones that download speed trap location POI's being pretty much the majority) by saying they're going to adjust the terms of use of the datasets so the police couldn't do what they did anymore.

      I have no idea how TomTom thinks they're gonna do that, given that they have no direct relationship with the police -and- the data can be used for perfectly good things as well. Tell the research company they can only sell on the distilled information to the government if they include a clause that the police can't use this information to place speed traps?
      What if one of the research companies simply dumps the average speed on major roads as a picture or google maps data on the internet. Now what - that picture/google maps information needs a clause saying "If you're a cop, you can't use this information"?

      Hence the 'pandering to their audience'. There's pretty much nothing they could actually do to halt the use of information for purposes that their customers aren't too keen on, other than simply not selling the data at all.

      • Once they release the data to anyone, they might as well assume it can go anywhere.

        One has to wonder why TomTom didn't just innovate better or charge more if they wanted more revenue. I say this because I'm pretty confident that most people I know owning TomToms and other GPS devices are under the belief that the data is coming to them, not going to tomtom -- and that they would be pretty offended to know that ANYTHING is being done with their location data.

        The notion that businesses think these kinds of p

        • by Dahamma (304068)

          One has to wonder why TomTom didn't just innovate better or charge more if they wanted more revenue/

          I'd say that's pretty obvious - their primary business used to be selling hardware, and that has been hammered by Smartphones and in-dash Nav systems.

          They then ported their software to run on those Smartphones, but the pricing pressure from intense competition for Smartphone Nav software (there are now at least *11* available for the iPhone!) has eroded much of that revenue as well.

          Same thing happened to Tivo

    • by houghi (78078)

      Not a repost. They just sold it twice.

    • And last week we also knew that TomTom didn't *sell* the info *to the police* they sold it to a traffic consulting business who sold their services to the police department and used TomTom data.

      Since then TomTom has promised to forbid that in their licensing.

  • http://www.openmoko.com/ [openmoko.com]
    http://www.openstreetmap.org/ [openstreetmap.org]

    Anything else?

    • by ktappe (747125)

      http://www.openmoko.com/ [openmoko.com] http://www.openstreetmap.org/ [openstreetmap.org]

      Anything else?

      Here's the problem: Even if you roll your own GPS/Nav, the Tom Tom data the government obtained will still be used against you. They won't just be pulling over Tom Tom users for speeding; this data "breach" (wasn't really) affects every single driver. So one company kind of ruined it for all of us.

  • Don't the police already have accident reports? Why do they need more information?

    • by Yetihehe (971185)
      1. Places where there are many accidents are not always places where people drive fast.
      2. Set traps where people are driving fast.
      3. Profit.
    • Don't the police already have accident reports? Why do they need more information?

      Accident reports would be a great indicator if all they were looking for was preventing accidents. It wouldn't cover everything, but when the concern is public safety it's definitely a great metric.

      The skeptic in me has to mention that, while I can't speak for Europe, I know that some towns in the US really rely on income generated from tickets and fines. In which case they would want to place traps in places more likely to catch offenders.

      Putting aside my skepticism, it's still an OK metric. Most place

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        On the freeway were I see most speed traps going 65 instead of 55 is not going to impact mortality a whole lot.

        • by jank1887 (815982)

          don't forget, energy of impact goes up as v^2. so that 18% velocity increase translates into a 40% increase in impact energy. 40% can make a big difference.

      • by Cwix (1671282) on Monday May 02, 2011 @02:28PM (#36002736)

        I know that some towns in the US really rely on income generated from tickets and fines. In which case they would want to place traps in places more likely to catch offenders

        That is a large part of the problem right there. A lot of these towns love to use speed limits that jump up and down. There is a stretch of highway not far from me that goes from 55 to 25 to 35 to 25 to 35 to 45 all within about a mile stretch. Its blatant that its purpose is solely to catch drivers unfamiliar to the area. (Speeds in MPH)

        • by Cwix (1671282)

          My bad, just checked google maps, its about a 2 mile stretch. Still quite alot of speed changes.

        • by Sarten-X (1102295)

          Let's see... come into town right at the elementary school, get out of the school zone for a little while, then go by the high school, then head into a less-dense area of town, then leave it. Sounds like a lot of small towns, including my hometown. Write the city council and complain about the inconsistent limits. Ask for that middle 35 section to be lowered to 25 to benefit drivers.

          • by Cwix (1671282)

            Not a single school zone on that stretch of road.

          • by sjames (1099)

            The speed limit changes tend not to follow rhyme or reason. Sure, school zones are understandable, but in the small town near me, there is a road with a 35 MPH limit for all but about 50 feet in the middle where it's 30. There is nothing different about that 50 feet except the speed limit and the likelihood of a cop car being parked behind the bushes.

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        >>I know that some towns in the US really rely on income generated from tickets and fines

        They do.

        Why they haven't been sued for conflict of interest in law enforcement is beyond me.

    • Accident reports are only good for determining where the combination of speed + road conditions are a hazard. They aren't good at finding long stretches of good road surface, with lower traffic volumes and good sight lines that allow very good drivers to shave several minutes off their commute by driving well over the posted speed limit.

      i.e. traffic report mining doesn't generate additional precinct income through additional high-value speeding tickets.

      This is a cash grab.

    • The "best" places for speed traps, according to the Dutch police, are not dangerous spots but the spots that generate the most revenue. For example, a dual carriageway that looks like one where 80km/h is the norm, is safe for and built for 80, but actually has a limit of 50km/h because it happens to be in the (poorly signposted) city limits.

      A typical example: cops expressed shock that over 90% of drivers passing a speed trap were exceeding the speed limit, which was reduced because of road works. They
    • by sjames (1099)

      If their main concern was public safety, the accident reports would be all they needed or wanted to know.

      If their main concern is revenue generation, they'll want to know where people are speeding the most. This is not so interesting for safety since people would likely go slower if the situation was unsafe, and if it was less safe than it seemed, the accident reports would point it out.

      Feel free to draw conclusions from there.

  • If the purpose is to improve traffic safety, then TomTom does not need to provide real time data. They can provide one week delayed data. I don't think TomTom folks are that stupid not to know that the real time feed would allow cops to put speed trap. If a lawsuit is filed and internal emails are obtained, it would reveal the truth (but only if is done soon enough before they destroy the emails).

    • by Tharsman (1364603)
      The true reason TomTom is because they were not expecting more efficient speed traps, just retroactive speeding tickets based on the included personal information that was tied up to your driving logs.
  • by _0xd0ad (1974778) on Monday May 02, 2011 @02:04PM (#36002456) Journal

    The company claims they assumed that the data would be used to improve traffic safety and road engineering, and were shocked, shocked to discover that instead the police used it to figure out the best places to put speed traps.

    Well duh. Those two phrases mean exactly the same thing in the newspeak.

    • Despite the egregious lack of corporate responsibility, perhaps there could be some useful application of the data for traffic safety and road engineering.. for instance, if traffic engineers can see what roads are congested which have too low of a speed limit imposed, they could propose raising them? A pipe dream, but I have to believe someone looking to optimize traffic flows would consider the design upside as well as the police simply considering how to generate revenue.

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        Despite the egregious lack of corporate responsibility, perhaps there could be some useful application of the data for traffic safety and road engineering.. for instance, if traffic engineers can see what roads are congested which have too low of a speed limit imposed, they could propose raising them? A pipe dream, but I have to believe someone looking to optimize traffic flows would consider the design upside as well as the police simply considering how to generate revenue.

        What's in that pipe you used for dreamin'?
        The most probable behavior is for the cops to lower the speed limits on other roads and install some new speed traps there.

      • by u19925 (613350)

        Why do you need real time info for traffic safety?

    • by Tharsman (1364603)
      Yea, I mean, since when does the police take any part in road engineering?
  • For all those devil's advocates out there that think it's still possible for the police to have ambivalent intentions behind this action...

    Keep in mind that to actually do the most good, all they really need to do is look at locations of most accidents in previous years, and regulate driving upstream of that. It's just that of-course the cause of these accidents might be attributable to road conditions and not necessarily excessive speed.

    The fact that they're paying money for this data of guaranteed speede

  • Are they really that clueless? You would think that if they were that thick, they wouldn't be able to hold on to their market. Every dick and harry (not tom :) would be able to produce devices that rendered theirs obsolete, over priced and under featured.

  • In Soviet Slashdot, articles are posts dupes of you!

  • I recently picked up a new client who needed a fair amount of work done to their small network/computers. The location thou is about as far as I advertise my services and had they not needed all the work that they do I would have likely referred them to someone more local. As my profits would not have been worth it with the current gas prices even with my decently efficient vehicle.

    So in driving out there so often I have noticed how often the speed limits will change in even just a few miles. Going from

    • by yakatz (1176317)

      As such I've been starting to ponder as I make these drives who the hell is doing this to us? Is it law enforcement or civil engineers who are saying that that 5mph for a few blocks is a good idea?

      There are some places in northern New Jersey where the speed limit changes every few blocks because you are changing municipalities and each little town sets its own speed limit. It is incredibly annoying for all the reasons you mentioned.

    • Most likely the little stretch where the road is 35 MPH is within the jurisdiction of a nearby town (perhaps one you can't see) that annexed over just far enough to grab a little piece of the road. That allows them to set the limit on that part, which they did. When the road leaves the town, the speed returns to the county's rate. Then you reach the next little town...

      It would be better if the state restricted the ability of cities to enforce speed limit reductions based on jurisdictional boundaries, and

  • Did his Tom Tom rat him out or did his iPhone's location tracking identify him?
  • Any officer or city official in plain clothes who travels to and from any location and takes different routes and clearly identify where hot spots are for speed traps. The reality is that once GPS data is turned over there a database may be compiled following the path of any unidentified subject and begin to pinpoint common begin and end points. Eventually, they will use such data in a court of law as a matter of historical record.

    Defendant: "Your honor, I submit was not speeding, here's my GPS proof."
    Pro

  • What is wrong with police putting speed traps where people are speeding?
    And why is it a problem that they get aggregate speed information from any available source?

    • People have a problem with this method of collecting data because people did not (at least knowingly) agree to have Tom Tom store data on where they traveled and when and how fast and then sell it. I believe they are right to expect that the company not do that. Sure, it's probably buried in some ToS or the like somewhere, but I'm firmly on the "shit buried 20 pages deep in fine print legalese is not a fair warning or agreement" side of the fence.

      As to the speed traps themselves, an argument could be (an

  • Somehow more than one Slashbot has read "aggregate data" and concluded that this means both "real-time" and "not at all aggregate". To clarify, the data that TomTom sends is something of this rough form: A list of sections of road. For each stretch of road, they have data on average speed and average traffic. Whether this is a 24 mean, or more fine grained than that they haven't said. Nevertheless, it's not individual records, its averaged over all users. The amount of traffic is an important metric.

  • GPS as far as I know works in one direction. How does TomTom collect data? They upload it if you log in on the net for an update?

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      GPS as far as I know works in one direction. How does TomTom collect data? They upload it if you log in on the net for an update?

      Neither of TFA's linked in the summary are very long, your answer is in the second one:

      When you use one of our products we ask for your permission to collect travel time information on an anonymous basis. The vast majority of you do indeed grant us that permission. When you connect your TomTom to a computer we aggregate this information and use it for a variety of applications, most importantly to create high quality traffic information and to route you around traffic jams.

  • "... they assumed that the data would be used to improve traffic safety and road engineering"

    I don't know about the Netherlands, but for most communities in the US this function is performed by Public Works.

    A poor lie at best.

  • It has to be said that the right amount of revenue induces naivety.
  • yeah. they should put them in the worst places.

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