The popular traffic app Waze gathers user-submitted feedback to alert drivers to possible inconveniences they might experience on the road—inconveniences like getting stuck at DWI traffic point. Now, the NYPD reportedly has a message for Waze and its parent company Google: Snitches get stitches.
CBS New York obtained a cease and desist letter that it claims was sent by the NYPD to Google in the law enforcement agency insists the Waze app is creating a dangerous situation by alerting users of nearby checkpoints. According to the report, the letter states:
Individuals who post the locations of DWI checkpoints may be engaging in criminal conduct since such actions could be intentional attempts to prevent and/or impair the administration of the DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws.
The posting of such information for public consumption is irresponsible since it only serves to aid impaired and intoxicated drivers to evade checkpoints and encourage reckless driving. Revealing the location of checkpoints puts those drivers, their passengers, and the general public at risk.
Curiously, a link to the full letter on the CBS website is now broken. An NYPD spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email, “I can confirm the NYPD sent the letter.” When asked for comment, a Google representative told us, “Safety is a top priority when developing navigation features at Google. We believe that informing drivers about upcoming speed traps allows them to be more careful and make safer decisions when they’re on the road.”
While driving under the influence is entirely indefensible, it’s hard to imagine how the NYPD could legally enforce this demand. This would likely be a straightforward freedom of speech case unless Google was found to be intentionally encouraging users to help each other get away with breaking the law. As it is, Google can easily claim its app is just helping law-abiding users avoid an unnecessary delay in their commute.
We’ve also seen reports that Google is testing out some limited traffic stop reporting features in Google Maps, so it will be interesting to see how the company responds to the NYPD’s scary-sounding letter. It’ll be even more interesting to see if they NYPD tries to defend its reported demands in court.
Update: This post has been updated to include a statement from Google.