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TomTom cleared in Dutch data privacy investigation

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Dutch GPS maker TomTom says it has been cleared any wrongdoing in an official government investigation looking into whether it passed its customers’ location and traffic information to third parties in violation of Dutch data protection laws. The controversy arose last April amid reports the company had been selling information gathered from customers’ GPS navigation devices without their consent—including offering that information up to governments and law enforcement.

However, TomTom doesn’t get off the hook entirely: while it has been cleared of any wrongdoing, the Dutch Data Protection Authority has told TomTom it needs to be clearer about what information it gathers and how that data is used. To that end, TomTom has issued a comprehensive statement on how location data is used, and plans to issue an update on all TomTom consumer products next month that will provide consumers with similar information. Customers can also opt out of data collection.

“By providing a better explanation on what data is obtained from our customers and how and why it is used, we avoid any unnecessary surprises,” said TomTom board member Alain De Taeye. “We have always safeguarded the data contributions made by our customers. We want to reassure all our customers that that we use data to profile roads and traffic, and not individual people.”

TomTom has maintained that all location and traffic data it collects is is anonymous, and sold in aggregate form. TomTom’s data clients include governments, who are interested in the information to improve road systems and traffic flow.

Last October, TomTom announced its was shifting its business strategy away from standalone personal navigation devices towards a selection of navigation and mapping services aimed at smartphones and other portable devices, as well as built-in GPS systems for vehicles. Sales of standalone GPS units of dwindled as consumers increasingly rely on smartphones and tablets for mapping and directions.