Police Officers’ Lives In Danger Because of Google’s Popular App?
Sheriffs Association is pushing Google Inc. to turn off a police-tracking feature on its Waze traffic software that warns drivers when police are nearby. They fear the app might put officers’ lives at risk by encouraging would-be cop killers to stalk and plan attacks on law enforcement.
Waze is a GPS navigation app that warns its users about real-time nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps or traffic cameras, construction zones, and when the police are nearby. The search giant purchased the app for $966 million in 2013, and now it has 50 million users in 200 countries.
There are no known connections between any attack on police and Waze, but many senior officers say it’s only a matter of time. They believe Waze is also a stalking app for law enforcement as it can possibly be used by attackers to find where their targets are parked.
The concerns were raised by Sheriff Mike Brown, chairman of the NSA technology committee, and Sergio Kopelev, a reserve deputy sheriff in California, during the meeting of the NSA’s winter conference in Washington. They are currently seeking support among other law enforcement trade groups to pressure Google to switch the police-reporting function off in its popular app.
“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 Brown.
As a reference, they pointed to the Instagram account of Ismaaiyl Brinsley — the man accused of shooting two New York Police Department officers last month. Brinsley posted a screenshot from Waze on his Instagram account along with messages threatening police.
However, investigators do not believe he used Waze to ambush the officers, in part because police reports Brinsley tossed his cellphone more than two miles from where he fatally shot the officers.
The executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, Jim Pasco, has the same concerns over the app as the Sheriff Brown. “I can think of 100 ways that it could present an officer-safety issue,” Pasco said.
Waze allows its users to mark real-time police presence alerts on maps, however, there is not much distinction other than “visible” or “hidden.” While users see a police icon, the app doesn’t define the purpose of their presence.
A Waze spokeswoman, Julie Mossler, said the company highly regards safety and security concerns and works by sharing information with the NYPD and others around the world. “These relationships keep citizens safe, promote faster emergency response and help alleviate traffic congestion,” Mossler said.
Google has declined to comment.
What’s your take on the matter? Do you think it would be appropriate for Google to disable the police-reporting feature? Sound off in the comments below!
Gohar is the lead editor at TechFrag. He has a wide range of interests when it comes to tech but he's currently spending a big chunk of his time writing about privacy, cyber security, and anything policy related.