In an interesting intellectual property lawsuit between two mapping services, we get a glimpse of how far companies will go to protect their work. Specifically, the Google-owned app, Waze, which offers information on traffic learned from crowdsourcing, is under fire for stealing data from competitor PhantomAlert.
The mapping service PhantomAlert touts on its website that it “is a must-have to keep you safe and ticket-free. Audible and visual warnings alert you of known road hazards and potential traffic ticket environments.” The company now asserts that prior to Google acquiring Waze in 2013 for $1.1 billion, someone from Waze stole information from PhantomAlert’s proprietary mapping database.
One reason this case is so interesting is because of the evidence that PhantomAlert will use to attempt to prove its case. Basically, digital map makers embed into their maps certain “paper towns.” These paper towns are in fact fake and made-up landmarks and locations that do not exist in the real world. The purpose of placing the paper towns in their digital maps is so that companies can determine if any other company or entity has stolen their proprietary information. Essentially, if a company’s fictitious location shows up on a competitor’s map - it knows data was stolen.
This is what is alleged in the PhantomAlert case against Waze and Google. PhantomAlert claims that it was able to find its paper towns in the Waze map app, using both the Apple and Android operating systems.
PhantomAlert’s complaint states that, “Among other methods, PhantomAlert determined that Waze had copied its Points of Interest database by observing the presence of fictitious Points of Interest in the Waze application, which PhantomAlert had seeded into its own database for the purpose of detecting copying.”
PhantomAlert claims that Waze allegedly stole information sometime during 2010. That year, Waze had reached out PhantomAlert and suggested the two companies share mapping databases. PhantomAlert declined the offer, stating that Waze’s database was too small.
In the lawsuit, PhantomAlert is requesting the court to award not only economic damages, but also to order that Google shut down the Waze app altogether.