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Terms & Conditions: Waze is a privacy accident waiting to happen

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What are you really agreeing to when you click that fateful “agree” button? Terms & Conditions cuts out the legal lingo to spell it out in plain English.

When it comes to GPS apps, Waze has it made. The Israeli-born app provides users with continuously updated map information thanks to its unique data-sharing setup: Users are awarded points for allowing the app to track their commute, or for manually entering travel information, like accidents, traffic conditions, weather, and speed traps, all of which can be viewed by other users. Waze even partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Google in the days after Hurricane Sandy to help identify gas stations that had run out of gas. And this past week, Waze launched version 3.6 for iOS and Android to allow users to report fully closed roads. 

Most anyone who’s used the app will tell you, Waze just works – a prime example of mobile tech and user-generated data coming together to create something new and improved. But tech like this comes with it’s own complications – by using Waze, you are revealing a lot of information about yourself to a whole slew of parties. Because of that, it’s important to understand what information Waze collects, and how it uses that information.

Terms of service

Waze kicks off its terms with an outline of the “key points,” which is something we like to see here at T&C, as it ups the chances that people actually read a bit about what they’re getting themselves into. Below, we’ll cover these points, and a few other things you need to know.

Who are you?

Waze makes it clear: You must provide your real name and contact information to use that app. It’s possible to go into anonymous mode, but Waze punishes users who do this by preventing them from collecting points, which in turn makes it impossible to use certain portions of the app. And if you lie about who you are, Waze reserves the right to cancel your account – or worse. (More on the “worse” in a bit.)

Where you at?

Tracking your location is central to Waze’s functionality. It’s possible to download maps to use in “offline” mode if you don’t want your location tracked. But if you don’t do that, Waze is tracking you, and storing your location data. So if you don’t like to be constantly monitored, don’t use Waze.

Stop! Report time

Not surprisingly, Waze repeatedly states that you must stop your car before you use Waze for anything other than navigation. Posting a report, like a speed trap or accident, while on the move is against the terms – and likely against the law. But let’s be real for a second: Nobody is going to do this. Waze is just trying to cover its bumper.

To this end, Waze also states that you use the app “at your own risk,” and that the company is not responsible if you take out a pedestrian or roll your SUV while trying to use Waze. So don’t even think about blaming the app makers for your bad driving.

Busted

We’ll get to Waze’s complete data collection and sharing in the Privacy Policy section. But there’s something you need to know right now: Your Waze data – including the routes you take and your speed – will be shared with the police if they demand it. It’s possible for you to use Waze to help fight a speeding ticket. The opposite, however, is also true: Everything you share with Waze could potentially be used against you in a court of law. So lead-foots, beware – don’t use Waze and speed at the same time.

Law of the Holy Land

All that said, it’s important to note that Waze is not a U.S. company – it’s an Israeli company. As such, the terms are entirely under the jurisdiction of the State of Israel, not the United States or any other country. So if you have any legal problems with Waze, be ready to book a trip to Tel Aviv.

Privacy Policy

If privacy is your main concern, don’t use Waze. I can’t put it any more bluntly – the app is essentially a black box for your car that doubles as a kind of social network. But if you don’t care about people knowing massive amounts of information about your personal travels, by all means, use Waze. Consider yourself warned.

Think before you report

Remember, Waze tracks your location. It also allows you to post your traffic reports to Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare – which happens automatically if you link your accounts. If you do this, people will be able to figure out where you are, and who you are. Additionally, Waze notes in its “Privacy Issues” page that, “if a wazer comes close enough to see your car and its license plate, that car registration information can be used to collect personal information and identify you.” Because of this, Waze urges users to “exercise caution and common sense when submitting information.” If you don’t, and someone stalks you or worse, that’s your fault, not Waze’s.

Social problems

This needs repeating: If you choose to link your Waze account with your social-media accounts, understand that this allows pretty much anyone to find out massive amounts of information about you – where you live, work, and otherwise travel. Waze puts the onus on you to manage what information you share, and holds itself immune to any blame if something bad happens to you because of the data you’ve shared through Waze.

Furthermore, information on your Facebook account or other profiles “may become public to other Waze Users … if you have defined such information to be public on [Waze].” In other words, unless you tightly control your privacy settings in Waze, you are likely revealing far more about yourself than you might think.

Bring on the ads

Given the other privacy concerns I have with Waze, the fact that the app allows advertisers to serve you ads based on your current location seems innocuous. Regardless, yes, Waze does share your location data with advertisers. But that’s not all.

Sharing free for all

As mentioned in the intro, Waze recently partnered with FEMA and Google. This is important because Waze reserves the right to share your personally identifiable information with any “companies or organizations connected or affiliated with Waze.” So even if you try to limit who you share your Waze data with, any entity that partners with Waze could have access to that information. And because Waze stores your data indefinitely, it’s not just your current data that could be shared, but all of the data collected while you used Waze.

Conclusion

Great as Waze may be at serving relevant, real-time, useful traffic information, the app is a privacy nightmare. It’s simply too easy to reveal too much about yourself, not to mention all the data Waze might share about you without your explicit knowledge. In fact, after reading the company’s terms and privacy policy, I immediately deleted the app, and will never use it again. If you don’t care about your every move being tracked, and the possibility that many details of your life could be leaked to anyone who wants to find them out, then, by all means, use Waze. Otherwise, I’d get rid of it as soon as possible, and find another GPS service that doesn’t play fast and loose with your data.

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