Waze

In a tragic story out of Brazil, a 70-year-old woman was killed when Waze directions led her and her husband into a dangerous neighborhood rather than to a tourist-friendly beach area, their intended destination.

From the Telegraph:

Regina Murmura and her husband Francisco, 69, had been trying to get to a beach in Niteroi, Rio, when they accidentally entered the gang-controlled Caramujo favela on Saturday.

Police told local media the couple had been using navigation app Waze to reach the seafront street of Avenida Quintino Bocaiúva in the south of Niteroi.

But the directions took them to Rua Quintino Bocaiúva inside the favela in the north of the bay city, where they came under fire from drug traffickers.

Bold is ours. In other words, 'street’ instead of ‘avenue’ in the Waze directions meant Regina Murmura wound up shot instead of sandy. The Murmuras wanted to go to the address on the left by the water, below. But they wound up near the map pin on the right, 20 minutes and a tragedy away from their desired destination. Their car was shot at multiple times, according to police.

The couple wound up in the inner city rather than on the shore

"Waze app directions take woman to wrong address, where she is killed," says a headline from WGN TV, which seems to subtly put the blame on the app. The story includes a statement from Google, which owns Waze, saying "it's 'incredibly saddened' by the incident."

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If it's a matter of human error, and the couple typed the wrong address into a navigation system, it seems inaccurate to blame the app, unless we expect mapping apps to warn us when we're entering dangerous areas. Waze does warn drivers about police (who might ticket them), based on tips from users, but not about the fact that they're entering a neighborhood with frequent gang shootings. If it did, it would surely be controversial. When an app launched last year that offered to warn people about "sketchy" areas as crowd-sourced from its users, it was criticized for basically evolving into a tool that steered people away from non-white parts of town.

"Unfortunately it's hard to prevent drivers from navigating to a dangerous neighborhood if it's the destination they select," Waze told CNN. "Citizens who reside in these areas need to be able to get home."

If the couple, however, typed the correct address into Waze and it defaulted to the wrong one—something that has certainly happened to directions app users before—then whether there's some kind of fault there is cloudier. Full blame, of course, goes to the person who decided to shoot at a married couple trying to find their way to the beach.

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It would not be the first time that a directions app has steered users off course, and with dire results. People using navigation systems have put so much blind trust in the reliability of their directions that they have driven off bridges900 miles out of their way, and into houses, bodies of water, and sand pits.

Though giants like Google with their vast data resources seem omniscient, technology is fallible. So try to tear your eyes away from screens and be cognizant of your surroundings. If your phone is trying to talk you into going somewhere that looks perilous, feel free to ignore it. There are some problems technology can't solve, and making a travel mistake that puts us in the wrong place at the wrong time is one of them.