Cops worry Waze speed trap warnings will be used by police killers

Google's Waze can warn drivers about speed traps, but police say it's a stalker's app for cop killers.

Credit: iStockphoto

According to Waze: "Traffic is more than just red lines on the map. Get alerted before you approach police, accidents, road hazards or traffic jams, all shared by other drivers in real-time. It's like a personal heads-up from a few million of your friends on the road."

Cops, however, are not worked up about Waze because users can warn other drivers about police speed traps, but also because the app allegedly "could put officers' lives in danger from would-be police killers who can find where their targets are parked."

6 California cops via Waze Waze

If you click on the cop icon, it might say hidden police trap, visible police trap, or just police trap. The app’s tagline of "outsmarting traffic, together," might be viewed by cops as "outsmarting speed traps, together." Of course police-reporting isn't the only thing marked by Waze’s 50 million users. The free service offers real-time traffic reports and allows users to report issues such as wrecks, potholes, weather hazards, traffic jams, road closures, construction zones and even traffic cameras. On the social side, you can choose your mood, map chat or use the "share my drive" functionality to "let others follow your drive and ETA."

Waze on Windows Phone Waze

Example of Waze on Windows Phone.

Varying reports claim that Google acquired Waze in 2013 for $966 million, but the price tag might have been as high as a reported $1.3 billion.

"Police stalker" is what Bedford County, Virginia, Sheriff Mike Brown dubbed the app since he claims it endangers law enforcement. Brown, chairman of the National Sheriffs Association technology committee, said:

"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."

Brown's not alone with that feeling, according to the Associated Press. At the 2015 National Sheriffs' Association Winter Conference, California reserve deputy sheriff Sergio Kopelev said it's "only a matter of time" before Waze is used as a stalking app to track down cops. Incidentally, he was unaware of the Waze app "until mid-December when he saw his wife using it."

The executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, Jim Pasco, said his organization has concerns, too. "I can think of 100 ways that it could present an officer-safety issue," Pasco said. "There's no control over who uses it. So, if you're a criminal and you want to rob a bank, hypothetically, you use your Waze."

I'm not sure if I can come up with 100 ways right off the top of my head, but it seems like Waze could just as easily be used like a stalking app to track down users who report speed traps. For that reason, the example of reported speed traps below have the identifying usernames obscured.

Police traps reported on Waze Waze

Example of police traps reported in real-time by Waze users.

To even use Waze at all, you must grant the app permission to access basically everything in your phone. The Associated Press noted that a big "concern among privacy advocates is how much information about customers Waze shares with law enforcement, since the service necessarily monitors their location continually as long as it's turned on."

Waze screenshots

"Waze works with the New York Police Department and others around the world by sharing information," according to Waze spokeswoman Julie Mossler. "These relationships keep citizens safe, promote faster emergency response and help alleviate traffic congestion."

It's too soon to know if Google will cave to law enforcement pressure and make changes to Waze. The police have a habit of applying pressure to have features that track DUI checkpoints and roadblocks removed.

Nuala O'Connor, head of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said Google should not disable the cop-reporting feature. She said, "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."

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