Google Maps now shows speed traps, potentially raising the ire of law enforcement

This Wednesday, March 22, 2017, photo shows the Google Maps app on a smartphone, in New York. Google is enabling users of its digital mapping service to allow their movements to be tracked by friends and family in the latest test of how much privacy people are willing to sacrifice in an era of rampant sharing. The location-monitoring feature will begin rolling out Wednesday in an update to the Google Maps mobile app that’s already on most of the world’s smartphones. It will also be available on personal computers. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison) 25technomad
Google is rolling out the ability to report speed traps, crashes, and slowdowns in real time to its Maps iOS app. (Patrick Sison/Associated Press/File 2017)

IPhone users who want to avoid the police can now hit up Google Maps before they hit the gas.

Google is rolling out the ability to report speed traps, crashes, and slowdowns in real time to its Maps iOS app, making the new feature available to about 1 billion existing users worldwide. It was already available on Android phones, and on Google’s other map app, Waze, which has a fraction of the users.

But US law enforcement has been critical of using this type of technology to report checkpoints to identify those under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and other types of police presence, something they say heightens safety risks on the road.


‘‘Revealing the location of checkpoints puts those drivers, their passengers, and the general public at risk,’’ wrote the New York Police Department in a letter to Google in February, demanding that Waze stop alerting users to those locations.

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It’s the latest wrinkle in the sometimes rocky relationship between law enforcement and tech companies in recent years. Most giant tech firms tout a mixture of free speech, privacy, and ease of use as pillars of their services and devices, values that don’t always align with helping the police crack a case.

Amazon initially fought law enforcement on subpoenaing recordings from one of its Echo speakers that may have been witness to a murder but eventually turned them over.

The FBI cracked a San Bernardino terrorist’s phone with help from professional hackers after Apple declined to help. And the United States, Britain, and Australia have all called on Facebook to halt its plans to encrypt its messaging apps, unless it provides a way for investigators to see communications.

Google said in an e-mailed response to questions about Google Maps that safety is ‘‘a top priority’’ and that reporting features can be beneficial to public safety.


‘‘We believe that informing drivers about upcoming speed traps allows them to be more careful and make safer decisions when they’re on the road,’’ said Google spokeswoman Genevieve Park.

NYPD spokeswoman Sergeant Mary Frances O’Donnell said in a statement Monday that ‘‘the Department has engaged in productive discussions with Google to make information available to drivers that will make roads safer and encourage responsible driving, while not impeding the enforcement of New York State Vehicle and Traffic laws.’’

There have previously been lower-tech options for reporting DUI or DWI checkpoints and speed traps.

German radio stations alert drivers to the locations of speed traps on the Autobahn. Drivers sometimes flash their headlights to oncoming traffic to warn others of police in the area.

On social media, users sometimes note recent checkpoint locations on Nextdoor, Twitter, and other platforms.


Google Maps is also adding other categories of incidents that can be reported by iPhone and Android users: objects in the road, lane closures, construction, and disabled vehicles.