Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Police Call on Google to Disable Cop-Tracking Feature in Popular App Waze

Many Waze users rely on the app to help them avoid police checkpoints like this one in San Francisco. (Nick Fisher)

Many Waze users rely on the app to help them avoid police checkpoints like this one in San Francisco. (Nick Fisher)

Law enforcement officials across America have voiced concerns that a popular police-tracking app that combines GPS location and social media could empower individuals seeking to harm officers.

The Associated Press reports some law enforcement officers believe the app, Waze, is little more than a police stalking tool that could be used to target them.

Waze, which bills itself as “the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app,” is free to download and use. It provides real-time road and traffic conditions, with users often posting the locations of police radar, speed traps, drunk-driving checkpoints or other information meant to help others avoid or better deal with officers. Some 50 million people in 200 countries currently use Waze.

The app’s most controversial feature allows users to ‘mark’ police on a map under the designation “visible” or “hidden.” Some police officials are calling on Google to disable ‘marking.’ In a December 30 letter to Google CEO Larry Page, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck expressed his concern that the app could be abused by criminals who “endanger police officers and the community.”

Beck cited last month’s assassination of two New York City police officers by Waze user Ismaaiyl Brinsley as justification for disabling the police tracking feature.

“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,” Beck wrote. “I look forward to opening a dialogue with you as to how Google can prevent the future misuse of the Waze app to track law enforcement officers, thereby avoiding any future deaths or injury.”

Beck is far from the only police official concerned about Waze. Bedford County, Virginia Sheriff Mike Brown told the AP he believes it is only a matter of time before Waze is used to hunt and hurt officers, and called on Google to exercise “responsible” corporate citizenship.

“The police community needs to coordinate an effort to have the owner, Google, act like the responsible corporate citizen they have always been and remove this feature from the application even before any litigation or statutory action,” said Brown, who raised the Waze issue during the recently concluded National Sheriffs’ Association conference in Washington, DC.

Waze spokeswoman Julie Mossler told the AP that safety and security are always taken seriously, and that the app’s developers work with the New York Police Department and other law enforcement agencies by sharing information.

“These relationships keep citizens safe, promote faster emergency response and help alleviate traffic congestion,” Mossler said.

Google purchased Waze for $966 million in 2013.

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