It’s no secret that the Google corporation has its hands in nearly every digital marketplace in existence. It is the assumption, however, that the Czech Republic’s alternative, Seznam, has kept the multi-colored tendrils from taking hold of the country’s internet. But that assumption is just that, an assumption. Focusing on the navigation application, Waze, might shed some light on this omnipresence that is characteristic to Google.
Waze began in 2006 in Israel under the name “FreeMap Israel” and had one goal: to create a free digital database of Israel using crowdsourced data from its users. It was revolutionary in the realm of GPS softwares in that it provided constantly updated traffic reports, rerouting you to avoid it, police warnings, and even road obstacle warnings. Then, in 2008, founder Ehud Shabtai decided to rename the app “Waze” with hopes of global expansion. The change became official in 2009. By 2013, Waze Ltd. had acquired a large following and a substantial user network. It made profits through in-app advertisements and partnered with local business to increase revenue and credibility to users. The social element was also a big selling point in that it allowed users to see other Waze members and friends in the app on the roadmap, creating its own version of a social network. By 2013, the monolithic Google took notice.
Image courtesy of Flickr User tenz1225
The acquisition was valued at $1.1 billion, and even drew attention from the Federal Trade Commission for possibly violating competition law. The FTC, though, decided to allow the acquisition. From there, Waze grew even larger than ever, with nearly 50 million users according to Yahoo!. In the scope of data collection at present, it is possibly a bit troubling that one of the most powerful companies in the world now also receives the data collected by Waze, i.e. location and driving habits. It might not seem like a big deal when you think about how the NSA might be peering through our laptop webcams and surveilling our browsing data, but the collection of a private company has different implications; why do they need it? At least the NSA has the ability to collect under the guise of national security. Nonetheless, Waze is now part of the Internet monster that is Google.
You may have noticed that both taxis and uber drivers employ the navigation application often, using the live data to avoid traffic and find shortcuts provided by its users. The Czech Republic is no exception. In my personal experience ride sharing here in Czechia, nearly all of my Uber drivers have used Waze. While the whole territory is not one of the thirteen countries that have a completely downloaded map, Prague is certainly accessible via the GPS. While Seznam offers a map function, it is rudimentary and slow to load when compared to Waze or even the original Google Maps. Though the widespread usage of Waze, an originally Israeli company, is a small step, the Czech’s resistance to our future overlords seems to be seeping away one app at a time.
Featured Image courtesy of Flickr User super bond1