What if Waze were evil?

I enjoy using the Waze navigation app. More often than not, Waze gets me to my destination faster than any other solution. Especially compared to my in-car navigation system, Waze is making smarter choices. In real-time. And it’s free.

This morning, however, Waze made some weird choices. I sincerely doubt that I was shown the fastest route. Let me apologize to the nice people of the city of Tervuren. No clue why I was driving in your street at 7 in the morning.

It made me think. What if Waze were evil?

What if Waze is not a free navigation app, but a freemium app. But a very secretive freemium app. Secretive as in: you and I do not have access to the premium service. What if Waze is offering a premium solution to a very small, exclusive, elite group of users. Super VIPs. Super secretive.

This morning, without me knowing so, I will have crossed the route of one of these super VIPs. In order to get this super VIP to their destination, fast and effective, Waze needed to clear the roads nearby, and so Waze decided to navigate me out of the way. Not so difficult to do for Waze, because, let’s be honest: when you’re using Waze, you stop thinking that you know the way, you simply start following instructions. In 300 meters, go left. Ok.

We have to remind ourselves: if you do not pay for a product, you are the product. The more ‘free users’, the easier and the more effective Waze can manipulate traffic. Much like that scene in the movie ‘The Truman Show’, where ‘the eye in the sky’ needed to create a traffic jam preventing Jim Carrey’s character from reaching his destination. And so could Waze. It would not even be that difficult. In real-time Waze knows the traffic at any location. So simply steering a few additional cars into a narrow street in Tervuren would create a traffic jam. In no time. What if that then would reduce the number of cars on the route of one of those super VIPs?

I live in Linter. A small city, close to Tienen, about half way between Leuven and Liège. And at least once a week, I make the unusual commute to Ghent, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium. But quite a distance from where I lay my hat. On average a 1h30 commute. Not on Sunday morning, however. Then it only takes about 45 minutes. On any Sunday morning, the center of Brussels is only 25 minutes away.

What if Waze could offer me a premium service, guaranteeing those ‘Sunday morning commute times’ at any given moment in time.

How much would I be willing to pay for that service? 500 EUR per month? 1.000 EUR? Probably much, much more. And that’s just me. Just imagine what successful captains of industry and their 1% friends would be willing to pay. They are buying private jets to save on travel time. No, Waze premium would be more a 25K per month type of deal. Probably even the type of service that you cannot simply buy, but that you have to apply for. Especially because the number of super VIPs has to be limited for the model to work.

I started this blog with the question ‘What if Waze were evil?’. But, come to think of it, Waze would not even be considered evil if they would launch such a super VIP service, at least if they could promise two things. First, emergency services are non-paying super VIPs. Giving back to society. Second, on average, you and I will need to get to our destination faster than any other alternative. We will not mind losing some time in benefit of one of your super VIPs. After all, we are the product.

My apologies if this blog was a bit too much ‘Black Mirror’ for your taste. And don’t worry if you are a Waze super VIP. This blog is only a figment of my imagination. Or is it?

Porsche red light
About Waze

Owned by Google, Waze is the world’s largest crowdsourced turn-by-turn GPS navigation application with over 90 million active monthly users globally. Waze is 100% free and uses real-time data from their drivers to optimize their routing algorithms. By simply driving around with the Waze app open on your device, you share real-time information that translates into traffic conditions and road structure.

About Geert Martens

Geert MartensGeert helps companies deliver superior customer experiences through 18 years of management consulting expertise. With his deep focus in automotive and similar sectors, he sees the impact and pressure on the industry. He uses these insights to help transforming organisations in an ever changing digital environment.



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