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

On: September 25, 2017
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About Stefy Stefany Winona Santosa


When talking about navigation apps that is frequently use on our smartphones, Waze apps may sound familiar to many users. Founded in 2006, Waze has been used by over 50 million users worldwide. As a social navigation system, Waze provides 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, Partush, Yadid & Yahav 1).

What differentiates Waze from other navigations apps is within its data collection method through users’ submission information. Over obtaining 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. pag). Based on the collected information, Waze administers real-time traffic updates unlike other apps. Interactivity as the main feature of the app, enables users to gain points for those who frequently reports on traffic and road hazards.

Not only that Waze provide real-time navigation system, however, it also operates similarly to many social media platforms. The ability to befriend other users is an essential feature within the app. Through connecting from one users to another, Waze aims to create online communities for local drivers.

Nonetheless, with such an interactive app, many have expressed their concerns with regards to Waze’s privacy policy. Frequently reporting on navigation information means allowing apps to record users’ whereabouts at all times. The question is, do users really want to trade off such interactivity for their own privacy? Clearly, knowing you friends’ whereabouts can be quite exciting. However, to what degree are we allowing our every move be scrutinized by others?

With an abundance amount of sharing, a great price is paid. Evidently, Waze functionality centers around tracking its users. Although the availability of locating users allows benefits to numerous users of Waze, Waze itself as a service provider may take advantage of such data. Through perpetual traffic reporting, Waze creates patterns that eventually exposes users’ habits.


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 Waze interactive apps. Through Waze, users have the ability to befriend family, friends and acquaintances on their profiles. This then allow 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, Freni, Bettini and Jensen 6).

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

In general, it is very unlikely for users to want their locations and activities to be acknowledge every time they are travelling. As users, people want to have the ability to use interactive navigation system such as Waze without being ‘spy on’ continuously.


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 indeed are allowing the apps to access their profiles’ information on the selected platforms. This means an 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 is commonly use for users who do not wish to fill out a registration form when signing up. OpenID authenticates users’ identities through login credentials of another apps. On the other hand, OAuth allows apps such as Waze to access information from other apps (Bischoff n. pag).

Although signing up through Facebook may conceive a faster approach to account creation and having one less password to remember, little do users know that these third-party apps often extracts and stores information on users, for them to share to advertisers. When users do not control their settings on ‘apps control’, various apps that have been given access to users’ social media profiles can obtain and access users’ complete data. This also 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 to advertisers. By tracking users and identifying their habits, advertisers can easily impose users with the appropriate ads in accordance to their current location. As Waze allows advertisement to be displayed on its app, some users often are unaware of these occurrences.

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

With the provided information, advertising is served to targeted user who have the potential interest in creating a purchase. ‘Click-by-click’ footprints that users leave behind when engaging on Waze, has enabled Waze to construct detailed information to accurately impose advertisements on users (Tucker 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 with how closely advertisers track their online behaviors. ‘Informative advertising’ can be perceived as intrusive by users and this further associate users to be feeling invaded of their privacy.


Waze Takeover by Google

According to TechInsider, in mid-2013, Google as a global empire has acquired Waze for the amount of $1.15 billion (Bort n. pag). Although Google has its own outstanding navigation system, Waze has proven to add features that Google Maps is lacking. Through user engagement, Waze is able to “report accidents, police presence, speed cameras and blocked roads” (Cohan n. pag).

Yet, it is commonly known that huge tech corporations such as Google extracts users’ complete information, online activities, and data. Through all the gathered information, Google uses these data to tailor advertisement to its users. Thus, it is quite apparent that with over 50 millions users that Waze has, Google can acquire more data and information from users due to Waze’s additional feature of real-time updates. This then sparks a debate on how Google can further capture a 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 track 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 itself is to collect data that can later be share 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.

Evidently, a major change within the privacy regulations of Waze should be emphasized for users to feel safe when using the app. Clearly, allowing apps to obtain users information may not necessarily be an awful thing, as long as they do not make users feel as if their privacy has been breached. Waze as a social navigation system is indeed an interactive apps to be used for navigating. However, it also within users’ own responsibilities that they need to be aware of what they have agreed on giving access to when using such apps.



Besmer, Andrew, Jason Watson, Heather Richter Lipford. “The impact of social navigation on privacy policy configuration.” Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security. (2010): 14-16.

Bischoff, Paul. “Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn… Which you should log in with?” Compari Tech. 20 September 2017. <>

Bort, Julie. “Waze cofounder tells us how his company’s $1 billion sale to Google really went down.” Business Insider. 20 September 2017. <>

Cohan, Peter. “Four reasons Google bought Waze.” Forbes. 20 September 2017. <>

Couts, Andrew. “Terms & conditions: Waze is a privacy accident waiting to happen.” Digital Trends. 20 September 2017. <>

Liu, Xuan. “Protecting privacy in continuous location-tracking applications.” Location-Tracking Applications. (2004): 28-34.

Rogers, Lisa. “The benefits and challenges of in-app advertising.” NMPI. 20 September 2017. <>

Sinai, Meital Ben, et al. “Exploiting social navigation.” (2014): 1-6.

Tucker, Catherine. “Social networks, personalized advertising, and privacy controls.” Journal of Marketing Research 51.5 (2014): 546-562.

Vicente, Carmen Ruiz, et al. “Location-related privacy in geo-social networks.” (2011): 1-13.

Waze. <>

Leave a Reply