A lawsuit was launched against Google over allegations that it stole database for Waze traffic app from a competing app known as PhantomAlert. Google acquired Waze two years ago, but the database was stolen even earlier. The app provides turn-by-turn driving directions and is notable for tight integration of crowd-sourced data for map and traffic data. The app can be updated by the users in real-time mode by marking jams, speed cameras and road works.

Now the rival app PhantomAlert claimes that some of Waze’s database was stolen from it 5 years ago. It claims that the theft can be proved by the presence of non-existent points of interest in Waze’s database, which could only have come from PhantomAlert’s data, because the latter had intentionally seeded them into its own database for the purpose of detecting copying. So, PhantomAlert accuses Waze of copying its database on multiple occasions after late 2012, re-incorporating it into the Waze app, and this is why Waze continues to display the non-existent Points of Interest data to its users.

Such points of interest are also known as “trap streets” or “paper towns”. In fact, they are fictitious locations put into maps to guard against copying. For instance, you could find a walkway named “Bartlett Place” in older editions of London’s A-Z street map. So if any map used that name instead of the real name (Broadway Walk), it clearly has illegally copied the atlas. However, other mapmakers refuse using trap streets in an effort to maintain the accuracy of their maps. Such mapmakers prefer to rely on stylistic features like the style of their icons, or the width of roads.

PhantomAlert claimed that Waze stole PhantomAlert’s database when it couldn’t afford to get it legally, and then successfully sold itself to Google for over $1bn. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and an injunction to cease operating Waze.