The NYPD is now demanding that Google stop sharing information with drivers about DWI checkpoints in the navigation application Waze, according to a cease and desist letter obtained by CBS New York. The application works via crowdsourcing, letting drivers add information about the location of crashes, delays, and other metrics in order to help reduce travel time and improve driver safety.
The activity is also helping drunk drivers avoid detection and capture, the NYPD asserts, making the roads more dangerous to the drivers, their passengers, and the general public.
Alongside the sentiments expressed about Google, the cease and desist letter sent to the search giant by the NYPD also suggests that individuals posting the information itself could be engaged in "criminal conduct" by marking the checkpoints in the app. The police department claims that by taking part in the crowdsourcing, users are knowingly attempting to interfere with the "administration of DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws."
Google's take and a focus on safety
Google has responded to the cease and desist letter with a statement provided to the source. Contrary to being irresponsible, as the NYPD claims, the company says that the feature is intended to inform drivers as a means to encourage safer driving.
More directly, the company says that safety is its biggest concern when new features are being developed and tested and that informing drivers about 'speed traps' helps drivers make safer decisions. For instance, a person who has been drinking but wants to travel to a location may avoid driving if they are informed of a higher-than-normal level of police activity on the lookout for drunk driving in that area.
Other Waze crowd-sourced features such as the speed trap and speed limit posting features recently ported over to Google Maps are similarly safety-focused too. If users have access to the posted speed limit within their navigation app, their phone becomes more useful and less of a distraction -- which might otherwise prevent the driver from seeing a change in speed limit.
The speed trap feature, conversely, could act as a deterrent similar to the feature the NYPD is complaining about. While it could simply cause drivers to reroute away from those locations, it also acts elevate driver awareness about the possible consequences of driving recklessly.
What happens now?
The NYPD obviously disagrees that the latest mapping and navigation features improve safety and is even seems insistent that users of those apps who help map such locations are criminals themselves, as mentioned above. Nevertheless, the cease and desist letter carries no immediate legal weight that will necessarily compel Google to follow through with the police department's demands.
Ultimately, Google has several possible options and outcomes to consider. That includes those associated with simply removing the features from its application or from both navigation applications in a bid to get ahead of future problems. It wouldn't be possible to easily remove solely for users in the New York area so the features would be removed entirely in that eventuality.
The company could also choose to simply do nothing at all since there's no obligation that it follows the letter's instructions. The NYPD could sue the search giant or might choose to continue sending letters in that case but it could simply decide the case isn't worth pursuing further and the matter might be dropped altogether.
Google's reported response statement seems to imply it will be taking the latter approach but the company hasn't confirmed any action in either direction.