US police want Google to disable Waze feature that shows officers are nearby

27 Jan 2015

Law enforcement agencies in the US are campaigning to pressure Google to switch off a feature in the popular Waze mapping app that tells drivers if police are near, warning that the feature endangers officers.

Waze, which Google acquired in 2013 for around US$1bn, is a popular mapping tool that relies on user data to build accurate maps, overlaid with real-time traffic reports.

The app is used by 50m people in over 200 countries and provides real-time data about accidents, traffic, speed cameras and weather.

However, sheriff groups in the US are concerned about a feature that lets users pinpoint police activity on a map.

On the one-hand, this helps drivers, for example, ensure they are driving within speed limits, but on the other hand, officers are concerned that criminals could use it to plan bank robberies or become police stalkers.

It is believed that Waze may have been used by the gunman when two police officers were shot in New York in December because the shooter Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s Instagram account included a screenshot of Waze.

According to the Associated Press, police fear that it is only a matter of time before Waze could be used to hunt and harm police.

“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 Sheriff Mike Brown of Bedford County, Virginia, who raised the issue at a National Sheriffs’ Association meeting in Washington last week.

GPS image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years