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“Location data is integral to the functionality of our location-based navigation products,” said spokeswoman MaryBeth Lowell. “We would not be able to provide maps, navigation directions, traffic updates, rerouting directions, nearby point-of-interest searches, etc., without it. However, we make every effort to respect the sensitive nature of this data.”

Information on drivers is collected to provide turn-by-turn directions and traffic information, locate vehicles for roadside assistance or recovery from theft, and give information on nearby gas stations, restaurants or charging stations for electric vehicles, among other reasons.

The GAO said some estimates expect use of telematics services to triple from 11.8 million subscribers in 2012 to 31.6 million in 2016.

Most of the time, companies will make efforts to “de-identify” data, such as listing a vehicle’s location but giving no information about the make and model of the car or the identity of the driver. However, there is no industry standard, and the ways companies try to protect the data vary, giving drivers differing levels of security.

Sometimes the businesses are using security measures that could still risk privacy, the GAO said, such as assigning each driver a number instead of using a name. After several trips, it would be easy to discern the number’s driving habits and possibly their home, leading consumers to be “re-identified.”

“While selected companies safeguard location data in part by de-identifying them, companies use different de-identification methods that may lead to varying levels of protection for consumers,” the GAO said.