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Deep inside Waze, the hot new target of Facebook and Google's affection

Ian Paul | May 27, 2013
Crowdsourced navigation tool Waze may be in play for acquisition. Here's the background on this commuter's tool, its mission, and where an acquisition might lead.

Waze's army of user-contributed information and online editing helps keep the service's maps up to date and accurate, and provides more data than Waze's staff of fewer than one hundred people spread across two offices in Israel and California could maintain alone. But why would anyone bother doing all that map work for free for a for-profit company?

"They are working for themselves," Shinar said last summer. "They are mapping places that they need." Creating the best possible map for a commute has value for an individual, Shinar says. Put enough people with similar needs together, and you end up with a community interested in maintaining a network of up-to-date maps.

To convince users to keep using the app, Waze also offers features such as user-reported gas prices at nearby stations, and integration with Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. The company also recently launched an ad platform where local businesses can let you know about deals when you're in the area.

It's all about (your) data
When we spoke with Waze last year, the company had moved beyond providing a free navigation app and selling ads. It was also selling its mapping and traffic information to institutional customers who need large traffic data sets. At the time, Waze was still developing business relationships in the U.S., but the company said it provided statistical data to Israel's Ministry of Transport.

Selling ads, map data, and aggregated traffic information helps keep Waze free to users, but with so many parties interested in Waze's database, how can you be sure your information is safe?

Shabtai and Shinar say they realize how important this information is, and they take user privacy very seriously. "We don't know anything about you specifically," Shabtai said. "We don't know your phone number or any UID [user identification number] of the phone. If you give us your full name we know that, but we only know what you want to tell us."

Waze says it doesn't sell any personal user information, and you can delete your personal data from its servers at any time. Left untouched, your driving logs and other data stay on company servers for an unspecified period of time, something that privacy-conscious users may be uncomfortable with if the acquisition rumors prove true.

But before you delete your Waze data to keep it from the clutches of Facebook or Google, be aware this is not the first rumor of a Waze buyout. In mid-2012, Israel-based business daily Globes reported that Waze was meeting with Facebook executives. The topic of the meeting was unknown, but another Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, reported at the time that Facebook may have been offering to acquire Waze for $200 to $300 million. After the Facebook buyout rumors came the Apple acquisition rumors of early 2013, followed by the latest round of Facebook rumors, and now the Google rumors.

And the Waze acquisition speculation may not soon subside. Bloomberg says the company is also mulling whether to take another round of venture funding in order to remain independent.

 

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