Waze has a strong commitment to protecting your privacy and anonymity.
Privacy options in the client app
By default, Waze is configured to keep your details private. This protection is not perfect due to privacy leakage.
The User Manual explains the configuration settings for privacy.
Privacy leakage is the disclosure and linking of personal information to an apparently anonymous profile. Privacy leakage is not unique to Waze. In fact Waze has very good privacy settings and policies. But they are not perfect, and some problems are inherent to any internet connected service that may contain location information, including Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and your photos (which may be geotagged). The fact that Waze supports all these options compounds the problem.
This list of ways you can lose your privacy is intended to be complete, but there may be other ways not yet recorded.
Waze is configured by default to display your location as an anonymous driver. To add to your privacy, the location display is delayed, so the location given is where you were 2 minutes earlier.
The location of Wazers is publicly available to other Wazers and on the internet. Rather than being anonymous, you can choose to have your location associated with your nickname.
Even when your location is displayed anonymously, there can be privacy leakage. On long highways, isolated country roads, or when traveling at a distance from your home, even anonymous location can disclose your identity. It is possible to identify you from your driving location or driving patterns, especially when combined with an identifying nickname, or other location databases. If you arrive at home and leave Waze on, it will show you in your driveway or home. This may be enough to locate your street address. Public databases such as local government (county) tax and rating records and phone books can be used with an address to find a full name and other personal information.
And if a Wazer comes close enough to see your car and its license plate, that car registration information can be used to collect personal information and identify you.
Nickname and Username
When you first install Waze you are given a random user name. If you change this user name, you may provide additional information about your identity. A first name may be enough to identify you if people observe you regularly driving to the same company location, or to the same street address. Having your company name as part of your nickname may help identify you. Using the same nickname as you use on other social networks like Twitter or Facebook may help identify you. Making a forum post using your nickname where you mention your real name or other personal information may help identify you. This personal information can then be linked to your Waze nickname and Waze identity.
You can choose to link your Waze account to Twitter. By default this will post your road reports to Twitter. You can also choose to tweet your destination, ETA and road munching reports. All of these will disclose your location and movements. By default Twitter accounts are open to the public, and not just your followers. Your Twitter profile may include personal information which can be linked to you and your Waze identity.
You can choose to link your Waze account to Facebook. By default this will show your Facebook profile picture to everyone. Facial recognition can be used to identify you. You may choose to disclose your name from Facebook (which is supposed to be your real name). You can also choose to update Facebook with your destination, ETA and road munching reports. All of these will disclose your location and movements. Your Facebook profile may contain more information that allows you to be identified and that information linked to your Waze identity.
You can choose to link your Waze account to Foursquare. If you then choose Report/Check in with Foursquare, then Foursquare will disclose your location. Your settings on Foursquare may be linked to other networks such as Facebook and Twitter and update those as well. Your Foursquare image and profile and links to other social networks may allow you to be identified and that information linked to your Waze identity.
You may not link to Twitter or Facebook, but you may be a member of a Waze group. Some of these groups are linked to Twitter. You make a traffic report which is shared with the group, and the group automatically sends it to Twitter and Facebook. Your Waze username (not your nickname) is published in the group membership list, together with the date you joined.
This makes it very easy to link your Waze nickname with your Waze username, and reveals information about your probable location and interests.
If you do not choose to be anonymous, your icon displayed on the map to other wazers includes an icon badge representing your main group, which can make it easier to identify you amongst the group members.
Automatic road reports
Your Waze client app may issue false traffic congestion reports, thinking you are stuck in traffic, rather than having stopped traveling at your home and work. A series of reports makes it much easier to identify a wazer living or working at a nearby location. It is important to turn off Waze when you have finished traveling, and not just put it in the background. This still remains a problem, as such false reports can be generated just by starting Waze to plan a route before departing.
This also means the social part of the social GPS (chit chat) cannot be used from a stationary location without both disclosing your location, and generating false traffic congestion reports.
Manual Road reports and Chit chat
These reports disclose your Waze nickname, your location, and possibly direction of travel. Making a road report or Chit chat where you mention your real name or other personal information may help identify you. If you choose to publish road reports to Twitter, your nickname can be linked to your Twitter profile. Chit chat is considered to be a road report for the purposes of publishing to Twitter and Facebook. By default, road reports are sent to Twitter when you link Waze to your Twitter account. Road reports may also be sent as a Facebook update if you link Waze to Facebook, but the default setting is not to send to Facebook.
A combination of your Facebook or Twitter profile, and your nickname Chit chat may help disclose personal information about you.
Creation and editing of roads
When you record a new road or edit the layout or details of an existing road, your Waze username is linked to that road. It is natural to edit roads around your home, work, and along your common routes. This may make it easier to identify you and link a Waze nickname commonly traveling on roads created or edited by a Waze nickname.
Other map edits such as adding house numbers are recorded with your Waze username and may make it easier to identify you.
Discussion forum posts are made using your username. If you disclose your real name or other personal information in a forum post, this can be linked to your Waze username.
Using Waze adds an insignificant amount of risk in day to day use
- Most of us are not going to be the target of stalkers
- Owning a smartphone running Waze does not mean our home is much more likely to be filled with valuable possessions. Running Waze does mean mean that your are more likely to have home security. But thieves may come to different conclusions
- Most homes are empty while people are at work from 9am until 5pm. Thieves don't need Waze to know that
- Waze by itself doesn't disclose if you are home alone, or if your home is empty
- There are easier ways for thieves to find out which houses to rob
But be sensible
- Don't Chit chat saying your whole family is away for 3 weeks leaving the house empty. You might Chit chat about how you forgot to feed your dog and you hope it doesn't attack anyone
- Don't Chit chat about anything that makes you a target. For example, no Chit chat about how you hope your jewelery collection is safe in your wardrobe