Waze: the application which supports (or even incentivizes?) its users to break the rules

Waze is already very advanced in several areas, including the accuracy of its recommended route choices, the flexibility it provides by rerouting seamlessly in seconds, and its established user community with incentives for crowd sourced contributions. But what about user safety (using the app while driving) and the unethical user behavior (avoiding speed traps, police cars to be able to drive faster) promoted by the app?

 

Waze has the purpose of “getting the best route, every day, with real-time help from other drivers” [1]. As a community-based traffic and navigation app, Waze builds on crowdsourcing as its operational cornerstone, with a network of 50 million users [2]. Besides the large customer base, the secret sauce that makes Waze better than Google or Apple in maps solutions is the customer engagement [3], which results in real time, extremely accurate route information. It also makes re-routing flexible and quick, which attracts even more user. Users report updates as they drive allowing the system to calculate and communicate the best possible route real time. This crowdsourcing formula makes Waze’s app superior, and this is one of the key reasons Google paid over $1 billion to acquire the firm [4].

Synergies between the two companies will shape their short and mid-term strategies. Waze is already very advanced in several areas, including the accuracy of its recommended route choices, the flexibility it provides by rerouting seamlessly in seconds, and its established user community with incentives for crowd sourced contributions [5]. Google can learn a lot about these strengths from Waze. Conversely, Google’s experience can help Waze resolve its safety-related concerns (with larger geographical coverage) over the coming years.

According to multiple sources, Waze is addictive to its users [6][7]. Even if the intention of the app is good (i.e., helping the whole driver community find the best possible routes) [8], using the app while driving is distracting and can result in dangerous situations or accidents. From Waze’s perspective, the desired behavior of the drivers is reporting traffic jams or speed traps as soon as possible, usually while behind the wheel. Although Waze asks the user if he/she is a driver or a passenger (which can be interpreted as a precautionary measure), it still rewards drivers for reporting as many events as possible. “Wazers can be religious about reporting traffic jams or speed traps,” so the incentivizing works [9]. Since the key to Waze’s success is real time accuracy and the network effect, this expectation of real time reporting will not change and should not change. That is why I think Waze should focus on a less distractive, hands-free technical solutions, e.g. voice recognition-based reporting. As a user reporting an event currently needs some screen time, even two seconds on a phone can cost a driver loss of attention for ~30 meters (based on my calculation, assuming 60 km/hour speed). Waze is already working on this issue, but according to customer reviews, the solution is still very limited and covers only a few countries [10]. Hopefully Google can give Waze a hand in increasing user safety features in the short or midterm future.

Another concern is that the app incentivizes users to help each other outsmarting speed traps (and thereby drive faster), which can also result in more dangerous situations [11]. One ethical disadvantage of crowdsourcing comes out very clearly here: if users prefer to outsmart traffic enforcement and break speed limits, the app will enable them to do so. Due to the network effect and the large user base, this is a collective issue that will not solve itself without intervention from the app’s designers. In my opinion, confronting questions of ethical values is a more difficult challenge for Waze than introducing voice recognition in the app. Indeed, the company does not seem to want to prevent bad behavior; it fully supports it by providing the option to report police cars, especially because if they decide to take an ethical stand, they will anger part of their core user base [12].

In my view, Waze showcases how crowdsourcing can enable unethical user behavior and increase the risks of driving (although their original objective would be to decrease this risk).  To enhance the safety of using its app, Waze should take steps to control rule-breaking behavior and to develop a less distracting, hands-free user experience available in every location Waze is present. Will this happen in the future? Or will Waze stick to following its users’ preferences, moreover continuing the support of unethical behavior by product development (i.e., new features in the app)?

 (704 words)

References:

[1] Waze’s Vision (2018). Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Waze Company Website: https://www.waze.com/

[2] Bradley, R. (2015). Waze and the Traffic Panopticon. Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/waze-and-the-traffic-panopticon

[3] Cohan, P. (2013). Four Reason Google Bought Waze. Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/petercohan/2013/06/11/four-reasons-for-google-to-buy-waze/#39f13cc81433

[4] Empson, R. (2013). WTF is Waze and why did Google just pay a billion + for it? Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Tech Chrunch: https://techcrunch.com/2013/06/11/behind-the-maps-whats-in-a-waze-and-why-did-google-just-pay-a-billion-for-it/

[5] Ungerleider, N. (2015). Waze is driving into city hall. Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Fast Company: https://www.fastcompany.com/3045080/waze-is-driving-into-city-hall

[6] Bradley, R. (2015). Waze and the Traffic Panopticon. Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/waze-and-the-traffic-panopticon

[7] Ungerleider, N. (2015). Waze is driving into city hall. Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Fast Company: https://www.fastcompany.com/3045080/waze-is-driving-into-city-hall

[8] Empson, R. (2013). WTF is Waze and why did Google just pay a billion + for it? Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Tech Chrunch: https://techcrunch.com/2013/06/11/behind-the-maps-whats-in-a-waze-and-why-did-google-just-pay-a-billion-for-it/

[9] Empson, R. (2013). WTF is Waze and why did Google just pay a billion + for it? Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Tech Chrunch: https://techcrunch.com/2013/06/11/behind-the-maps-whats-in-a-waze-and-why-did-google-just-pay-a-billion-for-it/

[10] Waze suggestion Box (2017). Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Waze Company Website: https://waze.uservoice.com/forums/59223-waze-suggestion-box/suggestions/857565-client-suggestion-voice-recognition?page=2&per_page=20

[11] Ungerleider, N. (2015). Waze is driving into city hall. Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Fast Company: https://www.fastcompany.com/3045080/waze-is-driving-into-city-hall

[12] Ungerleider, N. (2015, April 15). Waze is driving into city hall. Downloaded on Nov 12, 2018 from Fast Company: https://www.fastcompany.com/3045080/waze-is-driving-into-city-hall

Cover photo: Downloaded on Nov 13, 2018 from https://www.imore.com/hey-siri-not-working-while-using-waze-heres-why

 

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7 thoughts on “Waze: the application which supports (or even incentivizes?) its users to break the rules

  1. Pocahontas, you raise two issues that have both crossed my mind as a moderate Waze user. I am glad to hear that the company is taking steps to address the first issue of driver reporting. Using voice recognition seems like a logical solution and Waze could leverage machine learning to create the voice recognition solution.

    As for the second issue, I agree that outsmarting speed traps is viewed by its users as a key advantage for the Waze app over Google or Apple maps. Given that crowdsourcing is so integral to Waze’s value proposition, I don’t envision Waze eliminating this feature as, like you suggest, they risk alienating their loyal user base. I wonder if they could instead start incentivizing safe driving through its point system. I’m not sure if that would provide enough incentive to change consumer behavior but it could be worth exploring.

  2. While I agree that Waze needs to encourage safe behavior by including hands-free voice recognition to identify road incidents, I disagree with your assertion that Waze’s police reporting feature is unethical and unsafe. Instead, Waze promotes safer, slower driving and partners with the police to “keep citizens safe, promote faster emergency response and help alleviate traffic congestion.” [1] If Waze were truly unethical, I believe that Google would not have acquired them and that the company would be shut down by now.

    [1] Fleeman, Michael. “Google’s Waze App Fires Back Against Police Criticism.” Huffington Post, January 27, 2015. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/27/waze-police-tracking-criticism_n_6558408.html, accessed November 2018.

    1. Thanks for the comment, I really appreciate it! I would be happy to discuss further, because I do not fully understand your logic.
      This is what I think: yes, Waze is working together with the police to make the app safer (i.e. the police gives road block info to Waze, what is awesome). However the question of speed traps is a different one. The police is actively fighting against that from 2 reasons: 1) people want to avoid speed traps to be able to drive faster (what is less safe than following the rules). I truly don’t understand how the info on speed trap locations can help to improve safety, it is just not logical to me. Although it is a great user magnet. 2) Police men were killed because Waze uncovered their locations (for more info on this, please check out my reference [5] for example.
      For your Google point: what Waze is doing is not illegal, just unethical, moreover supporting the unetchical behaviour of the customers, so directly not even unethical. If the users are ethical, Waze is ethical – and that was my whole point. If crowdsourcing is your key operating logic, how can you make sure that your business is fully ethical with unethical users?
      I am looking forward to see tour thoughts! Thanks again for the comment!

  3. This is a very interesting flip perspective that we don’t see commonly about this new technology. I think the danger of saying that Waze has an ethical responsibility is that if they begin to reduce the power of the end users, they may lose a good portion of their customer base. These customers will then move on to another app that does the exact same thing, and the cycle will perpetuate. Ultimately open innovation platforms are tools for their users – you can’t dictate to someone buying a hammer that you can only use it for nails- now it is in their control. In Waze’s defense, they do monitor your speed and warn you when you are going over the speed limit, so they have made a bit of an effort.

  4. I hadn’t thought before of Waze as an application that encourages bad driving behavior such as speeding. I’m still in the camp that Waze helps to increase transparency around driving especially as it identifies road changes in real-time. However, I agree that Waze should try to protect the safety of its users by implementing the voice-assisted method of reporting police or accident sightings. This success will hinge upon Waze’s ability to create a voice translation format that easily identifies, logs, and publicizes the issue.

  5. Awesome post – thanks for sharing! I agree that crowdsourcing in Waze is important, but the app should enable more voice-activated functionality to notify other users of traffic jams, police cars, accidents, etc. Perhaps the app, in promoting safety, should disable users from inputting information when their vehicle is in motion? I have seen this work well before in car navigation systems and bluetooth-enabled cars. Also, connecting this to another megatrend, maybe Waze could even use machine learning to predict, based on drivers’ speeds, where accidents and traffic jams likely are without input from the user.

  6. Interesting read!

    I’d be curious how your opinion would change in upcoming years with the rise of heads-up-displays on windshields for newer vintages of vehicles. Much like with cellphone use concerns, I think moving Waze from a mobile app to one hosted on the vehicle itself might shift the public safety concern discussion. I’d be curious to see what Google’s plans are with respect to automakers adding Waze to their cars’ operating systems, and if there’s potential for Waze to be pre-installed on any Google self-driving car in the future. If this becomes a staple feature, there could be a future where every car has Waze installed, and they in turn use live crowdsourcing to augment their autonomous driving capability.

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