Technology

NYPD Warns Google Maps for Helping Drivers to Avoid Speed Cameras

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the universal tech giant Google, ordering it to stop helping scofflaws. The New York Police Department is demanding that Google remove a newly-added feature to its ubiquitous Maps program that tips off drivers about the locations of speed cameras.

Google has added the speed camera feature as a part of its efforts to incorporate the crowd-sourced features of Waze. Waze is a GPS navigation software app which was bought by Google in 2013. The Waze application shows the locations of police checkpoints which some drivers call “speed traps.” The Waze feature enables drivers to inform each other of police roadblocks. But police believe these checkpoints are life-saving enforcement efforts. The “cease-and-desist” letter

The NYPD sent its “cease-and-desist” letter to the tech giant during the weekend. The letter by the NYPD’s Acting Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Ann Prunty read, “The NYPD has become aware that the Waze Mobile application … currently permits the public to report DWI checkpoints throughout New York City and map these locations. Accordingly, we demand that Google LLC, upon receipt of this letter, immediately remove this function from the Waze application.”

The letter does not explicitly mention the Google Maps’ notification of new speed camera, but the broad language can be construed to cover such information as well.

The letter covers a brief window of time during which the public was not even familiar with the new Google Maps feature, and the New York Police department is already writing its warning letter. The users said they only noticed the speed camera warnings late last week.

Ed Janoff, a former planner with the Department of Transportation, said “The map alerted me, ‘Speed camera up ahead,’” recalls the notification he received when approaching Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens. “The tech tools are getting better at supplying the data drivers want in order to help them speed and run red lights without getting caught by the city’s scant few enforcement cameras.”

Google did not publically announce the speed camera notification. It was first picked up by a tech website for cops called Androidpolice.com. Apart from this, there has been very few coverages in the technology press, and it suggested that all drivers would be enthusiastic about the changes.

A headline in Mashable read “ Google Maps Wants to Help you Avoid that Speeding Ticket.” The news outlet reported that the users of Google Map have been able to report “speed traps” since the end of last year, but the application didn’t enable the feature until now. Regarding the same topic, the Elite Daily reported “The speed traps will have orange camera icons so drivers can make sure to maintain the speed limit around these areas. The best part? Drivers will receive audio notifications when approaching speed traps.”

On the contrary, the New York Police Department said, “Individuals who post the locations of DWI checkpoints may be engaging in criminal conduct since such actions could be intentional attempts to prevent and impair the administration of the DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws,” in the letter stated. “The posting of such information for public consumption is irresponsible since it only serves to aid impaired and intoxicated drivers to evade checkpoints and encourage reckless driving. Revealing the location of checkpoints puts those drivers, their passengers, and the general public at risk.” It went on to comment that “the New York Police Department will pursue all legal remedies to prevent the continued posting of this irresponsible and dangerous information.”

The Waze police checkpoint feature has been under constant dispute for years, with the NYPD’s sergeants and the national sheriff’s group demanding that it be deactivated in 2015, days after Brooklyn police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were ambushed by a killer who had the Waze app on his phone. Nothing came of those requests. But in 2017 France made it illegal for apps to trace and reveal the locations of radar and speed cameras.

Jonathan Rogers a street safety activists have long complained about how the Waze feature undermines the enforcement’s strategies and tools that took years to implement.”

The kind of attitude about law enforcement was unsettling from the popular Waze, but it is particularly distressing to hear when deployed by Google Maps, which is a lot more widely used than any other navigation system.

A study conducted in 2017 revealed that Google Maps is the navigation app of choice for over 67 percent of smartphone users. The next-closest application in the popularity race was Waze which was at a mere 12 percent.

As of now, all safety activists are concerned that the effectiveness of the speed camera is about to decline dramatically. The members of Families for Safe Streets, conducted many rallies almost-everyday in support of New York City’s speed camera program, which the legislature of state permitted to expire, before the City Council and Gov. Cuomo way to restore 140 school-zone systems. This pact remains in effect even today. The governor has planned to expand the program to count 290 cameras. This count is meager when compared to the demand for 1,000-plus systems by the activists.

Amy Cohen of Families for Safe Streets said “But irrespective of how many cameras are installed, they too will fail to work effectively if scofflaw drivers are alerted about their location,” she added,” with so few traffic safety cameras operating, it is deeply disturbing that Google is making it easier for drivers to identify and choose routes where speeding is rarely enforced. We need our state and city lawmakers to allow for a drastic increase in life-saving traffic safety cameras, like speed-, red light- and intersection cameras. If Google wants to avoid getting blood on their hands, they should become strong, active partners in the fight for more life-saving traffic safety cameras in New York.”

Janoff, a transportation planner, gave a broader view by saying “You could argue that the warnings are helpful because they are more likely to prevent speeding and red light running in the first place and at the locations where the city has deemed a high enough priority that they warrant camera enforcement.” Furthermore, “given that more than 99 percent of streets have no camera enforcement, you are effectively letting drivers know where they are and aren’t likely to get caught breaking the law, which seems counter to the whole mission of making streets safer by reducing illegal driving behavior,” he said.

When asked to comment about the issues both Google and Waze refused to answer.

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