US cops want Google to disable traffic app | Inquirer Technology

US cops want Google to disable traffic app

05:33 AM January 29, 2015

GUYITOWASHINGTON—Sheriffs are pressuring Google Inc. to turn off a feature on its Waze traffic software that warns drivers when police are nearby. They say one of the technology industry’s most popular mobile apps could put officers’ lives in danger.

Waze, which Google purchased for $966 million in 2013, is a combination of GPS navigation and social networking.

As many as 50 million users in 200 countries, including the Philippines, turn to the free service for real-time traffic guidance and warnings about nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps or traffic cameras, construction zones, stalled vehicles or unsafe weather conditions.

To Sergio Kopelev, a reserve deputy sheriff in California, Waze is also a stalking app for law enforcement.


There are no known connections between any attack on police and Waze, but Kopelev and others are concerned it’s only a matter of time. They are seeking support among law enforcement trade groups to pressure Google.

Kopelev and his colleagues raised concerns during the meeting of the National Sheriffs’ Association winter conference in Washington.

Slain NYPD officers

They pointed to the Instagram account of the man accused of fatally shooting last month of two officers of the New York Police Department (NYPD). Ismaaiyl Brinsley posted a screenshot from Waze along with messages threatening police.


Even so, investigators do not believe Brinsley, 28, used Waze to ambush the officers, in part because police say he tossed his cell phone far from where he shot the officers.

Charlie Beck, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), also cited the killing of the two NYPD officers to make his point that Waze posed a danger to lawmen because of the app’s ability to track their locations.


In a letter that Beck sent to Google chief executive officer Larry Page on Dec. 30 last year, the LAPD police chief said people were using the “unwitting” Waze community as “their lookouts for the location of police officers.”

Potential for misuse

Waze is a traffic and navigation application that users contribute information to in order to share real-time road information.

“I am concerned about the safety of law enforcement officers and the community, and the potential for your Waze product to be misused by those with criminal intent to endanger police officers and the community,” Beck said in his letter to Page.

The executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, Jim Pasco, said his organization also had concerns about Waze.

Waze users mark police presence on maps without much distinction other than “visible” or “hidden.” Users see a police icon, but it’s not immediately clear whether police are there for a speed trap, a sobriety check or a lunch break.

The emerging policy debate places Google again at the center of a global debate about public safety, consumer rights and privacy.


Waze response

Waze rejected the allegations of the police officers, arguing that the application is welcomed by many law enforcement agencies.

“We think very deeply about safety and security and work in partnership with the NYPD and other police and departments of transportation all over the world … to help municipalities better understand what’s happening in their cities in real time,” said Waze spokesperson Julie Mossler.

“These relationships keep citizens safe, promote faster emergency response and help alleviate traffic congestion,” she added. “Police partners support Waze and its features, including reports of police presence, because most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe law enforcement is nearby.”

Google declined to comment.

Google has a complicated relationship with government and law enforcement. The company is regularly compelled to turn over to police worldwide copies of e-mails or other information about its customers.

Last year, after disclosures that the National Security Agency had illicitly broken into Google’s overseas Internet communication lines, Google and other technology companies rolled out encryption for users, which the US government said could hamper law enforcement investigations.

Not appropriate

Nuala O’Connor, head of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington civil liberties group, said it would not be appropriate for Google to disable the police-reporting feature.

“I do not think it is legitimate to ask a person-to-person communication to cease simply because it reports on publicly visible law enforcement,” she said.

According to O’Connor, a bigger concern among privacy advocates is how much information about customers Waze shares with law enforcement, since the service monitors their location continually as long as it’s turned on. Reports from AP and AFP



Waze traffic app integrated in Google Maps

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DepEd finally joins Google world

TOPICS: Google, Google Inc., technology, Traffic, Traffic App
TAGS: Google, Google Inc., technology, Traffic, Traffic App

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