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There is an interesting development taking place in the world of smartphone applications and traffic safety.
Recently, representatives from Blackberry, Google and Apple were called before a congressional hearing about location privacy in smartphones, tablets and cellphones.
Several U.S. senators took the opportunity to ask the three technology firms to stop offering applications that allow users to identify locations or pinpoint such police enforcement tools as red-light and speeding cameras, speed traps and sobriety checkpoints.
Research in Motion, the makers of Blackberry, readily agreed to the request, telling lawmakers the applications in question would be taken off the market immediately.
Officials with Google and Apple were not so quick to comply, telling the congressional hearing that they would look further into the matter before making a final decision.
Google's Alan Davidson said applications that present information about sobriety checkpoints did not violate the company's content policy as it stands.
"We have a policy on our application market, on our platform where we do try to maintain openness of applications and maximize it," he said. "And we do have a set of content policies regarding our Android Marketplace. And although we need to evaluate each application separately, applications that share information about sobriety checkpoints are not a violation of our content policy."
In some cases, it's difficult to decide what the intent of these apps are. But if the intent is to encourage people to break the law, then our policy is to pull them off the store.
–Bud Tribble, Apple
Apple's Bud Tribble, vice-president for software technology, said it is difficult to clamp down on applications that use data published by police departments as public information.
"In some cases, it's difficult to decide what the intent of these apps are. But if the intent is to encourage people to break the law, then our policy is to pull them off the store," he added.
At the core of the congressional request was the notion that private companies should not be providing applications that allow people to break the law, whether it is a red-light camera, speed trap or sobriety checkpoint.
The tech companies argue that information gathered by their applications is a matter of public record, and their applications are merely consolidating information and presenting it to users of the application.
Fuzz Alert CEO Steve Croke said he might remove the checkpoint locating capability from his app to prove it is not designed to help people drive drunk.
"It's like an electrical version of the warning signs you see for curves ahead and so forth," said Croke. "This is nothing but a warning device, to let people know that they potentially are in an area where you should watch your speed."
Defenders of the apps say there is no difference between a detection app and the radar detectors that have been around for years. The use of a radar detector in a passenger vehicle is legal in all states except Virginia. Radar and laser jammers are illegal in Utah and seven other states.
This conflict with police enforcement and smart device applications is another example of our legal system not keeping up with our technology.
David Fierro is a communications consultant who resides in Salt Lake City. He specializes in transportation and produces the Utah Transportation Report: www.utahtransportationreport.com.