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National Sheriffs’ Association Wants Google To Drop Cop-Spotting Feature From Waze App

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

The National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) has asked the internet giant Google to drop the cop-spotting feature from its traffic and navigation app, Waze. The association says that by reporting the real-time position of police officers along with traffic details, the app is essentially interfering with their work and even putting their lives at risk. While Google is no stranger to receiving removal requests from individuals and copyright holders, it could be the first time when the law enforcement agencies have asked the company to remove a specific feature from one of its products.

Waze is a GPS based, community driven traffic and navigation app for Smartphone users. The app boasts of more than 50 million users who update details about traffic, roads and hazards in real-time. By checking road and traffic conditions through the app, users can not only avoid traffic snarls but also save time and money on gas. The app not only alerts users about traffic jams, accidents, hazards, cheapest fuel pumps, road closures and location of the cops, it also makes it possible to co-ordinate trips with friends through Facebook. Waze was founded in 2008 and it was acquired by Google in 2013 for a whopping sum of 1.1 billion dollars.

NSA’s technology committee chairman Mike Brown has expressed concern that the app allows users to locate the real-time location of police officers. Terming the app as “police stalker”, he said that the law enforcement needs to co-ordinate their efforts to convince Google to remove the cop-spotting feature without getting involved in litigation or any kind of statutory action. He also requested the Mountain View based online giant to be a responsible corporate citizen and remove the said feature so that law enforcement can do its work without any intervention.

The executive director of Fraternal Order of Police, Jim Pasco, also said since there is no control over who uses the app, he could think of 100 ways in which officers’ safety could be jeopardized. The app could allow criminals to rob banks and commit other types of crimes and escape without getting caught since they would know which routes to avoid due to police deployment. Brown also said that the dangers posed by the app were discussed in a conference related to technology.

Brown also pointed out that the dangers of the app became apparent recently when two officers were shot dead in New York. Before committing the crime, the murderer posted a screen capture from the Waze app on his Instagram account. While it would be inappropriate to blame Waze for the crime, NSA is nevertheless asking Google to remove the feature or use a stealth mode for the cops.

Waze, on its part, has issued a statement saying that it cares deeply about the safety and security of citizens and works closely with police departments from all over the world. It also claimed that a lot of its law enforcement partners support the cop-spotting feature since it alerts drivers to drive more carefully and thus avoid mishaps and detainment. It would be interesting to see how things shape out in the future and whether Google could be persuaded to drop the feature completely.

March 26, 2015

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