Waze worked well!

Waze performed perfectly

On a rainy day with multiple accidents and horrible traffic, my friend activated Waze on her iPhone and we navigated flawlessly to the end of our 29 mile journey without traffic and in great time. I was very impressed with Waze, a free, community-based traffic & navigation app that worked beautifully for us that day. With an upcoming long drive during rush hour traffic, I went to download Waze on my Android phone. Ouch! I was quickly disappointed when I realized I couldn’t risk downloading the helpful free app onto my device.

Take a look at the screenshot I captured below:

 Screenshot_2015-01-21-13-59-23

I was shocked to discover all the invasive access I’d need to give Waze in order to avoid traffic! ACCEPT? No!!! I can accept Waze needing my device’s location to guide me through traffic, but I cannot accept the other permissions listed above. Give them access to my contacts, photos, audio, video, camera or microphone? Nope, I don’t think so! Give them the ability to use my SMS or MMS? Absolutely not! Give them access to my ID and call information? No way!

So why does Waze gather all this information and why would one be concerned about it? As already mentioned, it makes sense to require location data to navigate users around bad traffic. But that location data can and is used for more than that. Waze is a free app and so revenue is obtained from advertising. That means you can expect to receive ads via the app, and also via email when you provide it as part of your sign up. Your location data allows you to receive location specific advertisements based on the routes being traveled. Additionally, the Waze privacy policy says it collects data “to comply with any applicable law and assist law enforcement agencies under any applicable law.” That means their data can be used to assess the speed at which you were traveling hence helping or hindering your argument as to whether or not you were speeding, for example.

Now, I don’t know specifically what Waze does with all the other personal non-location data and features it requires access to (photos, video, microphone etc.) and I also don’t know if they technically access items such as the photos and videos on the phones of the app users. But, even if they don’t access these things now, their privacy policy gives them the right to access these items in the future. Furthermore, Waze was purchased by Google in 2014 and that makes them an even more powerful force to reckon with. One thing I can tell you for certain is that I’m not taking any chances or putting my trust in Waze or any other free app with the potential for such immense privacy invasion.

Please interpret this short post as a reminder to be vigilant about every single app you install or download onto any of your devices. (Click on hyperlink for an additional article) Waze is not alone in the liberties it takes with user information and data.

So, it looks like I’ll be relying on good old-fashioned common sense and radio traffic reports when I embark on my upcoming long drive in peak traffic. That’s okay – I’ll be listening to good music and enjoying the time away from my computer.

Until next time,… Stay Cyber Safe!

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11 Responses to “Waze” free navigation app comes at high cost

  1. rhonda says:

    Holy Data Mining, Batman! Hayley, your article is awesome as is your site. I use Waze everyday to navigate the snowy, icy streets of Chicago– as for now. You definitely opened my eyes to potential privacy issues. Thanks for keeping us on our toes.

  2. Dana says:

    Thanks for this interesting and disturbing article. I was planning on downloading Waze because so many people rave about it but I am not willing to give up my privacy to get short cuts. I appreciate this information!

    • 🙂 You’re welcome. I want to download this app so badly myself. I also want to download the new version of Words with Friends and won’t do that for the same reason. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. If I didn’t know about the privacy issues, I wouldn’t have to deprive myself of these fun and useful apps.

  3. Hayley,

    Waze’s needs are not as nefarious as they seem all though I do admit any access granted can be abused.

    I choose to use Waze cause as a unique crowd sourced tool it is the more than a little fantastic at what it does.

    That being said here are the whys of what they are requesting:

    Mic: The program uses the mic for audio commands for hands free operations

    Camera/Photos: There are two useful options (a. posting photos of incidents & b. posting photos of the destination) which are very useful crowd sourced information. Without the granted permission they could not access these items or use them.

    Contacts: Waze uses contacts and address book to facilitate finding an address when navigating.

    Device ID/Call Info: I assume Device ID is to prevent fraud reporting (several neighborhoods tried to create bogus data to fake the system to routing traffic around their streets. As for Call info I am not sure but I suspect it has a rational and legit need or that one goes with the other.

    Location: Self Evident.

    Speed: Waze server tracks speed to figure out the streets that slow down historically and what is the best path based on past traffic to predict for you.

    As for having to cooperate with law enforcement request it just makes sense that if you have the data it can be subpoenaed by law enforcement and if one is smart it is best to be upfront and get agreement if demanded you will supply it and can do so without repercussions. Bottom line if you are breaking the law using waze or for that matter carrying a cell phone in anyway is ill advised.

    • Joel, thanks for taking the time to outline the permissions – I agree with all you’ve written. I know Waze works really well because I’ve seen it in action so I’m frustrated about not using it because of “potential abuse” of my data down the line.

      Because I spend most of my days removing personal online information for my clients, I am noticing that the amount and type of personal online data is growing exponentially. This occurs primarily because our data is valuable and it is being sold and resold for all sorts of reasons. Most legitimate companies and apps are probably not abusing our data (yet), but I have seen evidence of apps that do abuse it. An easy example is when I notice FB posts from friends that don’t seem to fit their personalities. I always contact those friends and discover they did not make the post and had no idea it was done on their behalf. It was a result of them giving an app permission to post on their behalf and that app took them up on the permission they gave by default. Today, a woman told me old photos she had forgotten about on her phone suddenly appeared online. I’d have to guess it’s from an app that she inadvertently allowed access to her photos. So for now, sadly no Waze for me!

      Thanks again for taking the time to explain the permissions. Since I don’t use Waze, the information you provided is helpful.

  4. rhonda says:

    Hmmm, I use WAZE every day. I guess they have the ‘411’ on me. Yikees!

  5. Ben Cahn says:

    If you download the app and then delete the app does Waze have all of your photos and information gathered somewhere? Or do the permissions along with the data disappear?

    • Great question, Ben. Per their privacy policy, “On receiving such a request, Waze will use reasonable efforts to delete such information, however please note we may not delete information immediately from our back-up systems.”

      In theory, it is their intention to delete the information but there is a trace of it on their backups. In actuality, the answer to your question is “maybe.”

      For more specific info, see their privacy policy at this link: https://www.waze.com/legal/privacy

  6. Elaine says:

    Wow- I’m going to check the settings on my Waze app.. .and may have to delete it after reading your post! Thanks again Hayley.

    • There is a way to use Waze in an invisible mode, but you must actively choose that setting each time. The default is “opt in” and to opt out of any features you need to take a specific action. I haven’t explored Waze enough yet but my initial impression is that there are not enough privacy options to warrant my use. That said, I know over 50 million users feel differently and are very happy using Waze.

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