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Google sued over Waze's alleged theft of map information

'Paper towns' may cost Google paper money

Google has more litigation on its hands. Waze, the GPS navigation app Google acquired in 2013, is being accused of stealing proprietary mapping information from a Washington, DC-based rival called PhantomAlert prior to its acquisition. The search giant's purchase of Israeli-based Waze for $1.3 billion was a blockbuster mapping scoop that let Google tap into troves of important Waze data, which crowdsources mapping errors and traffic accidents to improve its product. Now, this lawsuit calls into question the underlying motivations with which Google bought Waze in the first place.

Cartographers are known to use what are called "paper towns" or "false streets" — fictitious location information that acts as a kind of watermark for map makers so they know when other cartographers have ripped them off. For PhantomAlert, the "false towns" were in the form of fictional points of interest that the company claims Waze stole in 2010 to bulk up its database; Waze did so, PhantomAlert says, not realizing it contained this false data.

PhantomAlert is asking for unspecified damages

"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," reads PhantomAlert's complaint. PhantomAlert claims Waze approached them five years ago to share database info, but PhantomAlert declined, whereupon Waze allegedly lifted database data multiple times and ultimately improved its chances of getting acquired by Google.

PhantomAlert is asking for Waze to be shut down and for Google to pay unspecified damages. "I started PhantomALERT seven years ago as an entrepreneur with a dream," said PhantomAlert CEO Joseph Scott Seyoum in a statement. "And now that dream has been crushed by companies that are profiting from the years of blood, sweat and tears our team put into our product."