Alphabet Inc.’s Google is turning off live traffic conditions in Israel and the Gaza Strip for its Maps and Waze apps at the request of the Israeli military, ahead of a potential ground invasion into Gaza. A Google spokesperson told Gizmodo that the move is “out of consideration for the safety of local communities.” Anyone navigating to a destination in the affected region will still get directions and estimated arrival time but won’t be able to see information about current traffic patterns, including lane closures, road works, etc.
Google’s decision comes as Israel deploys tens of thousands of reservists following a deadly attack from the Palestinian movement Hamas on Oct. 7. The military hinted at a possible ground invasion into Gaza, drawing criticism from world leaders due to the risk of civilian casualties.
According to a report by Bloomberg, Google and Apple have disabled real-time traffic data in the affected area for both their Maps and Waze apps. This will prevent users from gleaning information about vehicle movements and other indicators that would allow them to track on-the-ground military activity. In addition, the decision to turn off traffic data in both apps applies to the surrounding areas of Lebanon and Jordan, where viewing the information above is impossible.
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It’s not the first time that Google has temporarily turned off traffic information for its mapping apps during a conflict, and it appears to have done so in response to an explicit request from the Israeli military. The company did the same thing in 2022 during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, presumably to safeguard civilians from tracking Russian troops as they moved into the country.
In an email to users, Google explained that the temporary disabling of traffic data in Israel and Gaza is to protect drivers from being able to see “traffic conditions and busyness information that could be used for unintended purposes.” As it stands, Maps and Waze still provide users with primary travel data, such as lane closures, road works, etc., and it’s unclear whether those features will be restored when the situation in Gaza has calmed down.
A Google spokesperson said that the decision to turn off traffic info isn’t permanent and that the company will re-enable it once the situation in Gaza has stabilized. The spokesperson added that the company has always been transparent with users about what kind of data is available on Maps and Waze, including whether or not the info is live. “We’ll always make sure our maps are transparent and accurate, even in challenging times,” the spokesperson said. “As we’ve seen in the past, this information can help people plan their routes and save time and energy.” Disabling traffic info is an infrequent occurrence on both apps, with only one or two reports being reported annually over the last decade. Google’s competitors have yet to do the same.