There is no such thing as Privacy Policy: Tracking users’ online behaviour through Waze

On: September 25, 2017
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About Stefy Stefany Winona Santosa


   

When referring to navigation apps that are frequently used on our smartphones, the Waze app may sound familiar to many users. Founded in 2006, this app has been used by over 50 million users worldwide. Waze acts as a ‘social navigation system’, providing information for navigation, including travel times and route details. The term ‘social navigation system’ itself can be defined as the collection of navigation data to inform users of their chosen routes. This data may include duration of travel, and road congestion and obstacles (Sinai et al. 1).

 

Waze collects data through information submitted by users. Through collecting traffic and travel times information from users, Waze is able to provide live travel occurrences such as traffic jams, accidents, and speed and police traps (Waze n. page). Based on the collected information, Waze administers real-time traffic updates. Interactivity is the main feature of the app and this enables users to gain points for those who frequently report on traffic and road hazards (Guha et al. 11).

 

Interestingly, Waze also operates similarly to other social media platforms. The ability to befriend other users is an essential feature within the app. Waze aims to create an online community for local drivers through users connecting with each other (Waze n. page).

 

However, with such an interactive app, many have expressed their concerns with regards to Waze’s privacy policy (Besmer et al. 14). Frequent reporting of navigation information allows the app to record users’ whereabouts at all times. The question is, do users really want to trade off such interactivity for their own privacy? Clearly, being aware of your friends’ whereabouts can be quite exciting. However, to what extent are we allowing our every move to be scrutinized by others?

 

With the abundance of information sharing, a great price must be paid. Evidently, Waze functionality centers around tracking its users. Although the availability of locating users allows benefits to numerous users of Waze, Waze as a service provider may take advantage of such data (Fire et al. 1). Through continuous traffic reporting, Waze creates patterns that eventually exposes users’ habits (Rogers n. page). This data is then often shared to third-parties.

 

Where are you and What are you up to?

Setting aside what Waze may use with the data gathered from its users, let’s shift the focus towards the exposure of location to other users of Waze. Looking back at the functionality of Waze, it is important to remember that social networking is a part of the interactive app. Through Waze, users have the ability to befriend family, friends and acquaintances on their profiles. This then allows befriended users to see each other’s current locations at any given moment. However, through associating the identity of users and knowing their current location, users may expose sensitive information to other users (Vicente et al. 6).

 

Take a hypothetical example of Tom, an ill patient, who is about to visit the doctor. When Tom uses Waze to navigate his journey to the hospital, his family have access to his current location. If Tom’s family does not actually acknowledge his sickness, his activities on Waze have the potential to expose very sensitive information about him.

 

In general, it is very unlikely that users want their locations and activities to be acknowledged every time they are travelling. As users, they desire to have the ability to use interactive navigation systems, such as Waze, without being  continuously ‘spied on’ (Crump n. page).

 

Social Login and its Implications

Nowadays, it is common for navigation apps to link users’ profiles to third-party apps such as social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Waze, among those apps, allows users to enforce ‘social login’. By linking users’ profiles, users allow the apps to access their profile information on the selected platforms (Bischoff n. page). This results in the exposure of users’ data in those platforms.

 

To be able to fully understand the idea behind ‘social login’, it is important to first acknowledge the mechanisms behind it. Open source protocols such as OpenID are commonly used for users who do not wish to fill out a registration form when signing up. OpenID authenticates users’ identities through login credentials of other apps. On the other hand, OAuth allows apps such as Waze to access information from other apps (Bischoff n. pag).

 

Although signing in through Facebook may conceive a faster approach to account creation and requires one less password to remember, users may be unaware that these third-party apps often extract and stores information on users for them to share to advertisers (Bischoff n. pag). When users do not control their settings on ‘apps control’, various apps that have been given access to users’ social media profiles can have complete access to user data. This includes users’ friends list, online activities, occupation, personal details, etc.

 

In-app Advertisement

Looking back at the data gathered by Waze from tracking its users, one common usage of such data is for apps to share information with advertisers (Almuhimedi et al. 788). By tracking users and identifying their habits, advertisers can easily expose users to relevant ads according to their current location (Castelluccia 23). As Waze allows advertisements to be displayed on its app, some users are often unaware of these occurrences.

 

The use of in-app advertisements has significantly increased over the past few years. With Waze providing the exact location of each user, advertisers are able to deliver relevant advertisements on the Waze apps itself. By constantly being exposed to such ads, users may be tricked into purchasing goods they desire (Beard 242).

 

With the provided information, advertising is served to targeted users who have the potential interest to create a purchase. ‘Click-by-click’ footprints that users leave behind when engaging on Waze allows the app to construct detailed information to accurately impose advertisements on users (Tuckera 2). The extracted information can accurately be concluded as detailed as ‘how much users are willing to purchase a good at a specific price’.

 

Due to such precision, users are often cautious about how closely advertisers track their online behaviors. ‘Informative advertising’ can be perceived as intrusive by users and this further exposes users to the feeling of privacy invasion (Tuckerb 2).

 

Waze Takeover by Google

According to TechInsider, in mid-2013, Google as a global empire acquired Waze for the amount of $1.15 billion (Bort n. pag). Despite Google having its own outstanding navigation system, Waze possesses additional features that Google Maps lacks. Through user engagement, Waze is able to “report accidents, police presence, speed cameras and blocked roads” (Hoffman & Shelach n. page).

 

Yet, it is commonly known that huge tech corporations such as Google extracts users’ complete information, online activities, and data. Using all the gathered information, Google tailors advertisements to its users. Thus, it is apparent that with over 50 million Waze users, Google can acquire more data and information from users due to Waze’s additional feature of real-time updates. This sparks a debate on how Google can further capture more detailed data information on its users, enforcing bigger privacy concerns.

 

To conclude, it is inevitable that our use of online apps will always be tracked by tech corporations. The amount of data and information gathered from tracking users’ behavior online can greatly benefit corporations in various ways. Clearly, the main focus of apps such as Waze is to collect data that can later be shared in a manner that is appropriate for advertisers to utilize. At the end of the day, Waze as a social navigation system generates income through advertising. However, this, to a large extent, has sparked controversy on how the tracking of users’ online behavior has proven to invade users’ privacy.

 

Today, we live in a society that is continuously evolving with technological development. With navigation applications providing third-parties with users’ data and information, we have no control of how much data is being extracted from us in the online sphere. Essentially, control and intervention, both from the Government and users’ sides, are needed to tackle such issues. After all, technology should be developed to benefit users and not invade.


Bibliography

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