TomTom Kicks Off FUD Campaign Against 'Dangerous' Open Source Mapping

from the going-down dept

Recently, Techdirt wrote about the increasing number of Web sites that were dumping Google Maps and turning to OpenStreetMap (OSM) instead. But that’s only one aspect of the increasingly important digital mapping sector: another is for use with in-car satnav systems. So an obvious question is: how is OpenStreetMap doing here?

Looks like the satnav manufacturer TomTom has just provided us with an answer (found via Slashdot):

Despite the positives, recent studies have highlighted some major drawbacks of open source mapping, specifically with regard to safety, accuracy and reliability. In one particular instance, a leading open source map was compared against a professional TomTom map, and shown to have a third less residential road coverage and 16% less basic map attributes such as street names. Worse still, it blended pedestrian and car map geometry, and included ‘a high number of fields and forest trails’ classified as roads.

As TomTom explains, this is a Bad Thing:

Many drivers rely heavily on satellite navigation for precise directions, and mapping errors can be extremely dangerous, particularly in the case of one-way streets.

Just in case you didn’t get the message, TomTom concludes:

Open source mapping certainly has its benefits and can be extremely useful, particularly for pedestrians and in city or town centres. The way that the maps incorporate input from a wide community of contributors can result in impressive international coverage, whilst also driving down costs of production. However, when it comes to automotive-grade mapping, open source has some quite serious limitations, falling short on the levels of accuracy and reliability required for safe navigation.

Unfortunately, TomTom doesn’t share its sources for these figures, but Carlo Daffara pointed us to this research from December 2011 that provides a more detailed analysis of the relative merits of TomTom and OpenStreetMap in Germany. This is what it found:

With a relative completeness comparison between the OSM database and TomTom’s commercial dataset, we proved that OSM provides 27% more data within Germany with regard to the total street network and route information for pedestrians. On the contrary, OSM is still missing about 9% of data related to car navigation. According to our projection for the future, this discrepancy should disappear by the middle or end of 2012, and the OSM dataset for Germany should then feature a comparative route network for cars as provided by TomTom.

So OpenStreetMap is actually better than TomTom for the total street network and route information for pedestrians. However, the study also considered the issue of street names raised by TomTom and “turn restrictions” — places where drivers must or must not turn:

In addition to the route network comparisons, we conducted further analyses regarding topology errors and the completeness of street name information. The results showed that the OSM dataset is not flawless; however, the trend shows that the relative and absolute number of errors is decreasing. Thus, it can also be discerned that not only is new data being added to the project database but also quality assurance is becoming a major factor within the OSM community. Our findings with regard to turn restrictions within the OSM database, which are of critical importance to navigation, showed that based on the current development rate and activity, it will take more than five years for OSM to catch up with the information found in the proprietary dataset used in our analysis.

So in Germany at least, TomTom’s criticisms about the poorer coverage of street names and “turn restrictions” are probably justified — at the moment. But what the research clearly suggests is that it is probably just a matter of time before OpenStreetMap becomes better than TomTom in this area just as it already is in terms of basic street coverage.

The fact that TomTom has chosen to highlight this current deficiency in OpenStreetMap shows two things. First, that it is watching the open source alternative very closely, and secondly, that it is sufficiently worried by what it sees to start sowing some FUD in people’s minds. But as history has shown with both open source server software and open source encyclopaedias, once vendors of proprietary systems adopt such a tactic against up-and-coming free rivals, it’s a clear sign that it’s already too late to do anything about it, and that their days of undisputed dominance are numbered.

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Companies: google, tomtom

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Comments on “TomTom Kicks Off FUD Campaign Against 'Dangerous' Open Source Mapping”

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Anonymous Coward says:

TomTom is a very good system but as with most ‘paid for’ services, it has gotten too greedy. just like OSM and Google Maps, TomTom relies quite heavily on input and corrections being given to it by users, which it then incorporates into its maps. to me, this should be reflected by lower charges to consumers. even ‘speed camera’ data is charged for and that information almost exclusively comes from customers, so virtually nothing has to be done by TomTom. with other competitors such as Garmin and Navman available and with OSM making huge gains in reliability, TomTom’s days are numbered unless they become more competitive in unit prices and other charges. even a TomTom repair is the price of a new unit, so when mine broke, i got a navman. just as good and half the price!!

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

even a TomTom repair is the price of a new unit, so when mine broke, i got a navman. just as good and half the price!!

I don’t know how they can continue to survive. My cell phone has GPS and access to Google Maps, and does a pretty good job of telling me where to turn and what traffic is like along the route. With the exception of my trusty Vista (old school GPS) running open source firmware, which I use for hiking and biking, I have no use for a separate GPS receiver. I have a mounting bracket for my phone which I can use to display it as a GPS while I am in the car, when I need it, and with the bluetooth headset, it even talks to me as I am driving so I don’t need to see it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t know what the business model in other countries is, but at least over here (in the netherlands) I can image most of the satnav producers being very, very worried about this; they have taken the printer manufacturers model of giving away the devices for relatively little money, but charging heavily for map updates.

So now they’re not only threatened by smartphones and google navigation, their big source of income (maps) is ‘attacked’ from another direction as well.

The companies that rely on this model will have to change, and soon. But I fear that most of them will deny this, and I fully expect that they will arm their legal cannons as soon as OSM devices start to look like they can rival theirs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

@ #2
just like the entertainment industries, rather than actually make your own product better, cheaper, easier or whatever and then compete to get/keep customers, i assume TomTom will go down the ‘gonna sue you’ route. the money wasted could be spent improving the service and the customer experience, but, as with most things and most companies, customers dont matter, until you have none, that is and your product/company fails!!

Josef Anvil (profile) says:


Again the digital world just seems so impossible for people to grasp.

A majority of the drivers on the road were doing just fine NOT killing themselves before SatNav became popular. Does turning on a SatNav turn off their brains suddenly or has society become just THAT litigious?

Now I’m wondering why the people that publish the paper maps that we used to buy at gas stations haven’t sued Google and TomTom for killing their business model.

PaulT (profile) says:

Perhaps they could just come up with a proprietary solution that makes drivers watch where they’re driving instead of blindly going wherever their sat nav tells them to go? That’s the only reason their concerns would make any sense. After all, one way street do tend to be signposted outside of the sat nav for non-idiots to see that they’re driving the wrong way…

In reality, I doubt that software using the OSS solution would be any more dangerous than someone using TomTom, especially if they’ve had it for a few years and not updated its maps recently.

Jim O (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Good point. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay 1/2 the unit cost for a map update. Open source maps are free to update – so in five years (when they are equal on paper) OSM will be superior in actuality. 90% of TomTom users will refuse to pay for updated software – so they will be the less safe drivers (following TomTom’s logic).

Anonymous Coward says:

Funny they mention one-way streets...

It is funny they mention one-way streets. Around here, several streets have changed direction, or changed between one-way or two-way, or are partially closed due to construction. Google Maps (which uses MapLink) did not update yet. Bing Maps (which uses Navteq) did not update yet. But OpenStreetMap already updated for all these changes.

And “extremely dangerous”? How hard it is to see the the turn signs and follow them if the GPS is wrong?

John Doe says:

Re: Funny they mention one-way streets...

Notify Google when that happens. I moved into a new neighborhood that was just one street that ends in a cul-de-sac and I notified Google. A few weeks later my street was on the map. I then notified them of my house address as I failed to do that the first time and a few more weeks my house was on there. Not only that, their street view car went down my 3/10 mile road shortly after.

In another instance, they had some address info wrong on a main road in town, a friend sent them a notice about it, they acknowledged it and fixed it. So Google, like OSM, will quickly make corrections/additions when notified.

Toot Rue (profile) says:

Flawed comparison

The whole argument of inaccuracy seems to rest on the belief the TomTom’s data is the reference for accuracy.

Having used my TomTom for years (and loved it), I can guarantee it’s anything but accurate. I always expect that it’s going to lead me to a goat path or something else long grown over whenever I’m out travelling.

I’d love a good TomTom like gps that used continuously updated OSM maps.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Many drivers rely heavily on satellite navigation for precise directions, and mapping errors can be extremely dangerous, particularly in the case of one-way streets.”

That’s a pretty idiotic stance for TomTom to take, given that they use the opposite argument when it comes to their own liability. I can see this statement coming back to bite them the next time someone sues because they paid more attention to their GPS than to street signs.

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