Waze Debated in Rio After Woman Directed to Slum, Killed

Waze is at the center of a controversy in Rio de Janeiro following the shooting death of a 70-year-old woman, whom the GPS navigation app directed into a notoriously dangerous slum.

Drug gang members opened fire on the vehicle in which Regina Murmura and her husband were traveling after the app directed the pair into the Caramujo slum in Rio’s sister city, Niteroi. Murmura died shortly thereafter.

Her death Saturday has sparked a roiling debate here over whether such GPS apps should somehow designate gang-controlled slums as dangerous areas – or whether such designations could stigmatize the areas and their residents. There are over 1,000 slums in greater Rio, and just over 260 have police presence, thanks to a 2008 so-called “pacification program” that installed police stations in slums that had been abandoned to the control of armed gangs for decades.

Waze representatives met Wednesday in Rio with state and municipal officials to discuss the shooting.

Waze’s Di-Ann Eisner declined to comment on the meetings, but in a statement a day earlier the company said it was “very sad” about Murmura’s death.

“Unfortunately, it’s difficult to prevent drivers from circulating in dangerous regions if those are the destinations selected because people who live in those areas need to get home,” said the statement.

Edval Novaes, sub-secretary of command and control with Rio’s state security secretariat, called the meeting “quite productive” and said he informed Eisner about a public database with the state’s crime statistics. He said she was also told about the city’s maps of slums, which are also available to the public.

“They will see how they use the data to improve the app,” Novaes said, without providing any further details.

Waze, which allows users to mark roads with traffic jams, is extremely popular in Brazil, where snarled traffic is a nearly inescapable part of life.

The Murmuras were using the app to direct them to a restaurant in Niteroi but the app instead sent them to a street with the same name in the Caramujo slum. Francisco Murmura, the victim’s husband, said in interviews with the local press that as many as 20 armed men opened fire on their silver Honda, peppering the car with dozens of bullet holes. Regina Murmura was struck in the back.

“Unfortunately we found ourselves in the Caramujo slum, which I had never heard of before in my life. We found ourselves there, and we didn’t get out of there,” he told the Globo television network. “When I realized it was a slum, I wanted to stop and turn around, but 10, 15 or 20 guys were already shooting.”

He added that they gang members apparently thought he was a police officer.

Saturday’s slaying was not the first such incident.

Several weeks ago, a well-known actress who also mistakenly followed a GPS app into the Caramujo slum was also fired on. She escaped uninjured.

With more than 50,000 murders annually, Brazil is one of the world’s most dangerous countries. The violence endemic here has come under extra scrutiny as Rio gears up to host next year’s Olympic games.

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