A mapping company claims that a Google-owned startup stole its data — and it used one of the oldest tricks in the book to figure it out

Waze CEO Noam Bardin
Waze CEO Noam Bardin. Getty/Handout

Google is being sued over claims that Waze, an Israeli traffic mapping startup it acquired in 2013, stole data from a competitor.

PhantomAlert alleges that Waze took data from its “points of interest” database without permission, and that it constitutes copyright infringement, Ars Technica reports.

Both Waze and Google are named as defendants in the lawsuit, with PhantomAlert wanting unspecified damages and to have Waze closed down.

Google did not immediately respond to a request to comment from Business Insider.

PhantomAlert says it used an old trick to discover the alleged theft: Planting fake data points into its own application. If those unique features pop up in another person’s work, the original author can more easily prove that it’s a copy.

PhantomAlert “[observed] 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,” the company’s lawyers Krosenberger Rosenfeld wrote in a court filing.

It’s a method that has been utilised for years by map makers — and others — to detect unauthorised reproductions of their work. The British Automobile Association got hit with a £20 million legal bill back in 2001, when Ordnance Survey spotted their unique “fingerprints” in the Association’s own maps. These fictional features are sometimes known as “trap streets.”

PhantomAlert launched in 2008, and according to court filings, Waze CEO Noam Bardin reached out in 2010 to the company about potential cooperation.

“Because Waze did not appear to have substantial data to share,” PhantomAlert CEO Yoseph Seyoum “declined Bardin’s offer,” according to the lawsuit.

The filing says that Waze went on to copy the Points of Interest database “in its entirety in or around late 2012 without any authorization or consent.”

This infringement occurred multiple times, it claims, before Waze was acquired by Google in June 2013.

“Waze needed to grow its database to increase its value and become more attractive to potential acquirers,” argues Kronenberger Rosenfeld partner Karl Kronenberger in an additional statement. “Our complaint alleges that Waze stole PhantomALERT’s database when Waze could not get it legally, and then sold itself to Google for over $US1 billion.”

“I started PhantomALERT seven years ago as an entrepreneur with a dream,” says Seyoum, “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.”

Here’s a link to the full court filing.

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