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.

Here launches interactive Traffic Dashboard

Digital mapping company Here has launched a new product designed to let users plan their urban journeys based on real-time traffic congestion information.

It’s called Traffic Dashboard and it not only reports existing congestion and traffic incidents, but anticipated ones too. It has been launched ahead of ITS World Congress and, to be honest, it looks like a bit of a gimmick to generate some coverage and little more, so job done there then,

“Nobody likes to be in traffic,” informed Helmuth Ritzer, VP of Connected Vehicle Services at Here. “But nobody alone can solve the problems it causes. For this we need more collaboration between the public and the private sectors to offer better services. With the Here Traffic Dashboard we provide insights into the vast amount of traffic information – from real-time to historical traffic data to sophisticated traffic analytics – that we can provide drivers, cities and businesses for more informed decision making.”

Here was once known as Navteq until Nokia bought it for $8 billion back in 2007 because it figured mapping would be quite important for smartphones. It wasn’t wrong but the ubiquity of Android and Google Maps scuppered that bight idea and it ended up flogging its mapping business to a consortium of German car makers for just $3 billion. You can check out the Dashboard below.

Elsewhere in the car tech world Qualcomm has announced the latest product of its relationship with China Mobile. This took the form of some LTE-V2X roadside units that are designed to help with safety, traffic, autonomous driving and that sort of thing. It uses the 5.9 GHz band and is compliant with the appropriate 3GPP standards for vehicle IoT.

“With the prosperity of ITS, connected vehicles demand communication with lower latency, higher reliability and wider bandwidth,” said Chenguang Wei, Deputy GM of China Mobile Research Institute. “We are pleased to see the RSUs that were developed with CMIoT deployed as a part of a pilot project in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, and are looking forward in to continuing to work with CMIoT and Qualcomm Technologies to help drive the maturity of the technology in the industry and in China.”

Google faces lawsuit for snooping which would even embarrass spooks

One Napoleon wanted to conquer the Commonwealth Empire, but this one only wants to topple Google. We’re not too sure which mission is more difficult.

San Diego resident Napoleon Patacsil has filed a lawsuit against Google following the revelation the internet giant was continuing to track user location after the user had opted out from location tracking services. Patacsil is suing for unspecified damages and class-action status on behalf of US users. The San Francisco court will first have to decide whether he has a case, and then whether he can take forward the class action suit.

“Google itself assured individuals that they could prevent Google from tracking them by disabling a feature called ‘location history’ on their devices,” the filing reads. “Google represented that a user ‘can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the place you go are no longer stored’. This is simply not true.”

The filing claims Google’s conduct falls short of reasonable expectations of not only privacy, but the trust which is placed in a business in a valuable position in the data economy. The privacy debacle could lead Google down a path towards PR disaster, though should the firm be found to be directly misleading users, this could evolve into a completely new saga.

While it does appear Google has quietly altered the support page detailing it might still collect location data since the revelation, there might be a way for Google to squirm out of any wrong doing. We suspect Google has given itself permission to continue to collect data, despite the opt-out, in terms of use. It would like be buried down, and thanks to some creative legal work, it might not have to have told users it was making the changes. As users accept the terms and conditions before using a device, they have effectively opted-in.

That said, explicitly telling the user it would not collect data is directly misleading. This is a massive no-no when it comes to consumer confidence, ethical behaviour and what the company can do legally. There might be a few regulators throughout the US keeping an eye on the situation here. An investigation would not be a massive surprise.

While multi-national corporations making money by any means possible is nothing new, the Silicon Valley firms have always considered themselves above such human desires. These were companies which only existed to make our lives better, and they certainly had the advertising budgets to tell us how wonderful they actually are. The last couple of months are starting to create an image of Silicon Valley firms similar to the investment banks who caused the financial collapse in 2008.

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica saga, alongside Twitter’s initial refusals to silence Infowar’s resident lunatic Alex Jones, Google’s war-mongering ambitions for AI and this Big Brother impression are not doing Silicon Valley’s reputation any favours.

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.

Softbank Vision Fund drops $164 million on maps

Softbank has continued its diversification strategy with another sizeable investment, this time in the big, wide world of mapping technology.

It might not sound like the most exciting arena, but it could be considered one of the most crucial for certain technologies. Whether it is as something as obvious autonomous vehicles, or a bit more subdued like the advertising models associated with social media platforms, accurate location data is critical. And we haven’t even begun to realize the benefits of IoT yet…

The injection of cash from Softbank Vision Fund is directed towards Mapbox, a location data platform for mobile and web applications operating out of Washington DC and Silicon Valley. Many would associate mapping technology with the Googlers, but Mapbox has been quietly accumulated customers and might provide a very viable alternative to the ‘do no evil’ business. An additional $164 million in Series C funding will certainly help mount a challenge.

The platform was initially launched in 2010, and now claims to reach 300 million people each month. When you count the likes of Snapchat, Bloomberg, Lyft or Lonely Planet as customers, the broad footprint starts to make a bit more sense. The team also claim to have 900,000 registered developers, and the cash will be used to build out the automotive unit (including the AI side), AR/VR/Gaming investments and increasing its presence in Southeast Asia, China, and Europe.

“We are mapping and measuring everything,” said Eric Gundersen, CEO of Mapbox. “The SoftBank team understands that location data is transformational to every industry. Additional capital accelerates our speed of capturing the market. This is a step function move that will transform the fundamentals of how everything – people and goods – move through our world.”

It’s an area of the industry which hasn’t received much recognition to date, perhaps because it is being dominated by Google. Just like doing an internet search, when people are looking up a location, Google seems to be the default platform. There is a simple reason for this, it is the best around. And there is another simple reason for that. Google has been investing in this area for quite a while, even before you could make any money from it.

The platform itself was started when a couple of Danish brothers sold their business (Where 2 Technologies) to Google in 2004. The first release was not until 2005, but twelve years later the platform has thousands of employees and contractors directly working in mapping. This is a brilliant example of a company investing in the long-term, a concept which seems to elude most executives.

To start with it was just a free feature for people to find their way. The connected economy wasn’t in full swing, and it was more useful for games than anything else. But with smartphones penetrating the mass market, it started to become a useful little idea. Apps wanted to integrate the platform, businesses could use it for advertising, and little ideas like autonomous driving are now starting to make waves.

Mapping is critical in the digital economy, and now that quirky little feature is looking like a very astute bet from the Googlers. Just like Android, it is a platform which doesn’t make any money directly, but fuels growth and innovation in other areas. Google’s bread and butter revenue machine is search advertising, and now Maps adds an extra dimension. This is on top of all the licensing fees it will be charging developers.

One risk for the industry is that mapping could end up going the same route as operating systems for smartphones. Android dominates this space, which has led to competition concerns in various countries around the world. Google Maps is arguably the most advanced platform out there, so this is certainly a viable concern.

Considering the importance of mapping technologies as a foundation block of the connected economy, this would appear to be a very smart bet from the Softbank team. The only risk is that the Mapbox is not able to compete with the innovative and cut-throat Googlers. Only time will tell, but $164 million will help.