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By Roberta Cowan
Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:41am EST
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - TomTom said on Thursday an official probe had cleared it of accusations that it violated Dutch data protection laws by sharing its customers' individual location and traffic information with third parties, including Dutch police.
The Dutch navigation equipment and map maker came under scrutiny in April after reportedly selling information gathered through its customers' personal navigation devices (PND) in their cars, to third parties, without their consent.
The firm collects location-related data, including speed, route, and time of day travelled from drivers using TomTom PNDs to suggest alternative routes and avoid traffic jams, but it also sells some of the data to third parties and traffic authorities.
"The data we collect is anonymous and aggregated and we then sell it to governments, which gives them more up-to-date information about the road and allows them plan new roads and improve traffic flow," said Simon Hania, TomTom's head of privacy and information security.
"Today it was confirmed by the CBP (Dutch personal data protection agency) that we never have and we never will sell data from our individual users to anyone else, including governments and the police," Hania added.
Despite TomTom's immediate denials that it sells individual drivers' data to third parties, local media reports in April gave the impression that TomTom's data could be analyzed by the police, car by car, who would then use it to catch drivers over the speed limit.
"We want to reassure all our customers that we use data to profile roads and traffic, and not individual people", said TomTom board member Alain De Taeye.
TomTom said although the CBP report cleared it of violating privacy laws, it was criticized for not providing sufficient information about what data was being collected and how it was used when asking for customer permission to gather that information.
"We've taken corrective action and changed our contracts with third parties and have excluded certain forms of usage," TomTom spokeswoman Kristina Nilsson said on Thursday.
The firm has also said it will update consent software on all of its consumer products to ensure its customers know about how their data is used to generate TomTom`s mapping, routing and traffic services.
TomTom announced a strategy shift in October to its in-built, traffic and mapping services in bid to restore growth and profits, moving its focus away from the cash-bleeding PNDs that made it a household name but have lost ground to free navigation programs, smartphones and tablets.
TomTom, whose founders have a majority stake in the company, competes in the PND market with Garmin and in the commercial digital map market with Google and Nokia Oyj.
(Reporting By Roberta B. Cowan; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)
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