Waze and Settler Colonial Technologies of Spatial Control

Authors: Eman Ghanayem*, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Topics: United States, Middle East, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: GPS, Settler Colonialism, United States, Israel/Palestine
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Digital mapping services have often participated in mirroring state interests and supporting its imperial operation. In the United States and Israel, many of these services conform to settler colonial perceptions of space and assist in the conquest of territory. Google Maps, for instance, continues to misrepresent or obscure multiple American Indian tribal territories and reservations. In similar ways, and despite activist efforts, it still misidentifies many Palestinian areas or “greys” them so that they visually seem unpopulated. Evidently, Google’s erasure replicates the U.S. government’s disregard for Indigenous sovereignty and Israel’s denial of Palestinian existence and their right to their homeland. In recent years, Google acquired Waze, a GPS navigation software that was created by Israeli developers in collaboration with California-based programmers. Waze exemplifies an important intersection of Israeli and American technologies of spatial control; Waze’s continued use by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to capture Palestinians attests to its militant roots. Ironically, Waze has recently been utilized to accommodate access to medical help and safer zones under COVID-19 restrictions. Investigating the different implications of Waze, and reading them through transnational and Indigenous critiques of colonial violence, my paper highlights the global network of exchanges that made Waze possible. As it involves two settler colonial contexts, Waze perfectly represents how such technologies demand colonial collaborative efforts that could enhance its accuracy and expand its market. Ultimately, critiquing such technologies can help us undermine their popularity and, consequently, advocate for alternative methods of mapping that work against exploitation and spatial bias.

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