TomTom to fill the Google mapping void for Huawei

Dutch navigation specialist TomTom has been announced as Huawei’s replacement for Google’s mapping expertise, following the firm’s entry on the US Entity List.

While there was no doomsday sirens sounding when the US banned suppliers from working with Huawei, the trickle-down effects are starting to become much more prominent, especially in the consumer business unit which has fuelled so much growth over the last few years.

“We can confirm that developers can now use TomTom Maps APIs, Map content and traffic services via Huawei’s developer portal,” a TomTom spokesperson said.

Details are thin on the ground for the moment, though TomTom has confirmed it has entered into a multi-year agreement to act as the powerhouse behind navigation, mapping and traffic applications which will feature on Huawei devices.

Huawei’s friction with the White House has been well-documented over the last 12-18 months, though the impact seems to be more of a slow-burner than apocalyptic. When similar sanctions were placed on ZTE in 2017, the disruption to the vendors supply chain was almost an extinction level event. Some US politicians might have hoped the same would be the same for Huawei, though the damage is much more nuanced.

Thanks to the ‘Made in China 2025’ and perhaps more foresight from the management team, Huawei has a much more diverse supply chain and less of a reliance on the US than ZTE. When President Trump signed the executive order banning US suppliers from working with Huawei, it was certainly notable, but the impact was muted, evidence by the fact Huawei’s revenues have continued to grow through the period.

But the consumer division, and Huawei’s smartphones in particular present some difficult questions. And almost all of them focus around Google.

No new Huawei devices will feature any of the Google applications. The immediate challenge is replacing the operating software, Android, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. For Huawei’s OS to be competitive, it needs to have a developer ecosystem, and for many of the applications to work properly, mapping data needs to be plugged into the applications.

While it might not have the reputation of Google, TomTom is certainly no stranger to the mapping and navigation game. Those who are a bit longer in the tooth might remember TomTom being a mapping innovator in the noughties, though it seemingly lost the battle for supremacy with Google. Few get the better of the Googlers, so there is little shame, though this could act as a spring board into a brighter future for TomTom.

TomTom claims to travel more than three million kilometres a year to collect mapping data, as well as augmenting this information with satellite imagery, as well as drawing from data from government and private sources, aerial imagery, and field analysts. The business already has numerous partnerships in place with the likes of Subaru, Alfa Romeo and Stelvio for driving navigation, as well as 5G initiatives with Verizon.

This is a critical step in validating the Huawei OS and developer ecosystem as location-based data is very important nowadays for the performance of many apps and security features. TomTom fills a noticeable hole.

What is worth noting is that while TomTom will offer mapping data to Huawei and the developer community, this is should not be seen as a direct replacement for the Google Maps application. This is a feature which offers basic navigation, which will be simple enough to replicate, though the embedded features will take time. Through Google Maps you can book tables at restaurants, see how busy trains are, access reviews on local business, amongst other benefits. This will take a significant amount of time to replace.

Verizon bets on connected vehicles with Here partnership

Verizon has decided to bang on about its mobile edge infrastructure at CES 2020 and is using a new partnership with location tech company Here as a pretext to do so.

Here is what Navteq became after Nokia chewed it up and spat it out. It was a big deal when Nokia bought it in 2007 as one of only two dominant satnav service providers. Nokia figured owning it would give its smartphones a strong differentiator but then Google came a long and scuppered that plan, as it did the entire Nokia smartphone business.

Now owned by a bunch of German car companies, who had a whip round to buy it in 2015 for a fraction of what Nokia paid for Navteq, Here is positioned as a standalone location services technology provider. With the advent of 5G and all the cool stuff we’re supposedly going to be able to do with it, Here’s time may have come as operators search desperately for use-cases to justify the hype.

“This collaboration with Here further proves Verizon’s commitment to innovating around and improving location services and pedestrian and intersection safety,” said Ashley Vogt, Senior Product Manager, Advanced Mapping at Verizon. “By harnessing the power of Verizon 5G Ultra-Wideband and 5G Edge, along with Here’s proprietary 3D positioning algorithms, we are driving together toward a safer and more precise future.”

“5G will be a game changer for many use cases in every industry,” said Edzard Overbeek, CEO of HERE. “The scale of the Verizon 5G Ultra-Wideband network is designed to enable higher-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity necessary for more precise positioning, Our partnership with Verizon not only allows us to tap into the innovation potential of 5G but also highlights what is possible when this technology is location intelligence enabled: connected services that are designed to make our world safer, more efficient and environmentally sustainable.”

So the big connected vehicle pitch seems to be around safety, although the future these two companies have in mind is borderline dystopian with its precision and efficiency. The two big initiatives this partnership will be working on are a collision avoidance system that warns people when they’re about to have an accident, and a visual positioning service that claims to augment GPS. It remains to be seen whether these new services will resonate with subscribers to any meaningful extent.

US operators belatedly act to protect user location data

AT&T and Verizon announced that they will terminate all remaining commercial agreements that involve sharing customer location data, following a report exposing the country’s mobile carriers’ failure to control data sharing flow.

Jim Greer, a spokesman for AT&T, said in a standard email to media: “Last year, we stopped most location aggregation services while maintaining some that protect our customers, such as roadside assistance and fraud prevention.” Referring to the Motherboard exposé, Greer continued, “In light of recent reports about the misuse of location services, we have decided to eliminate all location aggregation services — even those with clear consumer benefits.”

This is similar to the position T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere adopted when responding to the criticism from the US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Verizon also announced that the company will sever four remaining contracts to share location data with roadside assistance services. After this Version will need to get customers’ explicit agreement to share their data with these third-party assistance companies. Sprint, which was also caught out by the Motherboard report, is the only remaining nation-wide carrier that has not announced its plan on the issue.

This is all good news for the American consumers who are concerned with the safety of their private data. On the other hand, mobile operators have hardly been the worst offenders when it comes to compromising the privacy and security of customer data. Earlier, Google was exposed to have continued tracking users’ location even after the feature had been switched off, while Facebook has been mired in endless privacy controversies.

Monetising user data is only a side and most likely insignificant “value-add” business for the mobile operators, because they live on the service fees subscrbers pay. But it is the internet heavyweights’ lifeline. This may sound fatalistic but it should not surprise anyone if the Facebooks and the Googles of the world come up with more innovative measures to finance the “free” services we have benn used to.

Lack of transparency could cause problems for digital economy – Here Technologies

New research from mapping and location platform provider Here Technologies claims there is a lack of trust between consumers and technology companies when it comes to sharing and handling of personal information.

The focus of the research was location data, as you might expect from Here, but the results were perhaps more pessimistic than some would have expected. Only 20% feel they have full control over their personal location data, while 76% of the respondents are left feeling stressed or vulnerable about sharing their location data.

“People share location data with app providers because of the many benefits, whether it’s food delivery, hailing a ride, or getting the most out of social media,” said Peter Kürpick, Chief Platform Officer at Here Technologies.

“But, for many, it can be a trade with which they’re uneasy. While the lack of trust is problematic today, we believe that there could be greater challenges down the road if privacy practices continue to be dominated by a click-to-consent approach.”

Transparency is a key term here as there is very little in the technology industry nowadays. A couple of weeks back we commented that a lack of education regarding the use of AI will eventually be a massive concern, and this research supports our concern that the technology companies are ignoring their responsibilities to educate the consumer as the digital economy matures. Education is the key word here, as there hasn’t been enough.

Many app developers or internet companies seemingly feel that they need to hide what data they are collecting off the consumer for fear there would be retaliation or rejection. This is solely down the fact that the consumer has not been taken on the digital journey with the industry. Most consumers don’t understand the trade-off between free services and the release of personal information and now it seems the point of no return has been passed. You can’t pull back the curtain because the digital machines powering the internet revolution have gotten so big and scary.

A good example of this is opening up one of the gaming apps which you have downloaded on your phone; you might be quite surprised how much information you are actually giving away. No one reads the terms of service nowadays and this is a massive problem.

New regulation in Europe, GDPR, will give some control back to the consumer but the consumer will have to be more proactive in managing his/her digital footprint. The big problem here is knowing where your data actually is. How many apps have you downloaded over the years and then deleted? Do you remember the names of the developers? It is likely you have given personal information to these people, but having the right to request deletion is irrelevant if you don’t know where or who to ask.

The research from Here claims consumers would be more open to giving away personal information if there was more transparency and control over how location data is collected and used. People don’t like giving things away blindly, but are usually quite reasonable when the why is explain. Everyone, or at least we hope the vast majority, know there is no such thing as a free lunch; there is always a trade-off but the technology industry has to trust that the consumer is mature enough to accept it.

There are of course examples where the consumer would be happy to share location information, with autonomous driving platforms for example or drones which search for missing people, but these are only a small part of the digital economy. The rest of the industry needs to be more honest with the consumer or the whole idea will come crashing down.

Right now the relationship between the technology industry and the consumer is broken. If the information age is going to flourish more education is needed and the industry needs to trust the consumer to make decisions, not enforce itself upon individuals with a consent or leave policy.