In a rather bizarre turn of events, the National Sheriffs’ Association has reached out to the Internet giant, Google, demanding the company remove a police tracking feature from a popular traffic update app, Waze.
Waze, the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app, the company tagline reads, with over 50 million downloads and nearly two million 4-5 star ratings.
The police have demanded Google remove the application from the Google play store and request they no longer support the app as long as one feature remains. In a recent update, Waze added a feature where nearby drivers can notify others about nearby police activity.
Wednesday, the National Sheriffs’ Association publicly asked Google to disable the ‘nearby police activity marker’ housed within the apps latest update. Authorities are demanding Google remove the feature because the app not only puts officers lives at risk, it also hinders their ability to actively write speeding tickets.
“This app will hamper those activities by locating law enforcement officers and puts the public at risk,” the group said.
Waze social GPS maps and traffic app operates similar to a free GPS navigation tool, while letting users tag the locations of accidents, hazards, traffic congestion, potholes and most recently, law enforcement, so that other drivers using the app are forewarned and can take alternate routes to avoid such traffic conditions.
As the Sheriff association believes their point is valid, Waze spokeswomen Julie Mossler begs to differ, saying “most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe law enforcement is nearby.”
Though the companies differ in opinion, the police have a right to dislike Waze and their latest law enforcement tagging feature. This is not the first time Waze has been in the hot seat with law enforcement, the National Sheriffs’ Association took Waze up on police safety two months prior, just after the fatal shooting of two New York City Officers.
The association has also cited that Google’s extended support of this application is hampering their ability to successfully deploy speed traps. The association claims the speed trap technique and radar guns have helped prevent many fatal highway accidents.
Ironically enough, Waze only gained more popularity since the police filed the complaint towards Google and news broke. Waze climbed four positions in the Apple app store in under 24 hours, lowering from the 12th most downloaded free app, to no. 8.
A spokeswoman for the San Jose Police Department told reporters the department does not have much information regarding the software’s impact.
“However, part of our police model includes a highly visible police presence to reduce crime,” the spokeswoman said.
The Waze app works by letting users mark locations of what conditions are like nearby, meaning if a user marks a police cruiser on the map, drivers using the app nearby may see a small police icon on the map, but it’s not immediately clear what police are doing, meaning it could just be a vehicle parked “visibly” or a speed trap among other various scenarios.
Many Waze supporters have lashed out against the sheriffs possibly erroneous claims, pointing out the irony between police concerns with privacy and the governments mass surveillance of the citizens.
One sheriff told reporters that state laws may pass in the future to prevent people from revealing the location of parked police vehicles, however, privacy advocates took offense, citing First Amendment protections that could hinder the bills ability in court.
“Waze represents person-to person information in the public square,” said Nuala O’Connor, head of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington civil liberties group, who said she uses the software. “And that’s long been a U.S. right under the Constitution.”
While the Waze feature has not proven to cause any damage towards officers or any other police agencies, the association is still trying to hold Google liable for the claims.
Google has yet to take action amid law enforcements recent concerns, we will keep you updated.