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A Rival Traffic App Is Suing Waze For Allegedly Poaching Its Database

PhantomAlert claims it buried fake points of interest in its database to shield against copying–and that Waze has those same markers.

A Rival Traffic App Is Suing Waze For Allegedly Poaching Its Database
[Photo: Flickr user Travis Wise]

Before the advent of GPS and navigation apps, cartographers sneaked “paper towns” and “trap streets” into their maps–fake points of interest that they used to detect plagiarism. If someone copied their map, it would be easily identifiable through the inclusion of those locations. That same trick has found its way into modern-day mapping systems: A new lawsuit brought against Google and its traffic app Waze cites sham points of interest as evidence that the Google-owned service copied from a competitor’s database.

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PhantomAlert, a lesser-known app that monitors traffic and flags road hazards, alleges that Waze pirated parts of its database back in 2012, after a proposed deal between the two companies failed to come to fruition two years prior. (The PhantomAlert CEO was apparently unimpressed with Waze’s data.) PhantomAlert says the Waze database includes fabricated locales that could have only originated from its own Points of Interest database. In a civil complaint, the company wrote:

Among other methods, PhantomAlert determined that Waze had copied its Points of Interest database by observing the presence of fictitious Points of Interest in the Waze application, which PhantomAlert had seeded into its own database for the purpose of detecting copying.

On information and belief, Waze copied the PhantomAlert database on multiple occasions after late 2012, re-incorporated the copied data into the Waze application, and continued to display the Points of Interest data to the users of the Waze application.

But the boldest accusation on PhantomAlert’s end is that Waze may have stolen information to boost its profile, in the hopes of getting picked up by a company like Google (which it was in 2013, at a price tag of over $1 billion). “Waze needed to grow its database to increase its value and become more attractive to potential acquirers,” PhantomAlert’s lawyer Karl Kronenberger said in a statement, according to The Guardian. “Our complaint alleges that Waze stole PhantomAlert’s database when Waze could not get it legally, and then sold itself to Google for over $1bn.”

Slipping in false entries isn’t specific to maps–dictionaries and encyclopedias also do it, for the same purpose. The 1975 version of the New Columbia Encyclopedia had a rather infamous fake entry for a renowned fountain designer and photographer named Lillian Virginia Mountweazel; she hailed from Bangs, Ohio, and died “at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine,” according to the New Yorker.

Waze declined to comment on the allegations to Fast Company.

[via The Guardian]

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About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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