Apple and Google today agreed to conduct a review of applications that make use of DUI checkpoints to see if they violate each company's mobile application store guidelines.
That decision came during today's congressional hearing about location privacy in smartphones, tablets, and cell phones. U.S. Senator Charles Schmuer (D-N.Y.), who was on hand, managed to get in a few questions to representatives from both technology companies, urging them to take action following his pleas and those of other politicians about the existence of police DUI checkpoint apps back in March.
"As you know, several weeks ago a number of my colleagues and I, senators Udall, Lautenberg, Reid and I, wrote letters to your companies calling your attention to the dangerous apps that were being sold in your app stores, and asked you to immediately remove them," Schumer said to Bud Tribble, Apple's vice president for software technology and Alan Davidson, Google's U.S. director of public policy.
"We brought these to the attention of RIM, they pulled the app down. I was disappointed that Google and Apple haven't done the same, and I'd like to ask you how you can justify to sell apps that put the public at serious risk," Schumer continued.
Google's Davidson responded by saying that 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. And we do have a set of content policies regarding our Android Marketplace," Davidson said. "And although we need to evaluate each application separately, applications that share information about sobriety checkpoints are not a violation of our content policy."
Davidson went on to say that Schumer raised what the company believed to be "an extremely important question," one that the company was "actively discussing internally."
Apple's Tribble was asked a similar question by Schumer and responded by saying that Apple too believed it to be a serious issue, and that the company was "looking into" it.
Tribble also noted that one of the things that makes this difficult to clamp down on is that the applications in question are publishing data that's furnished by police departments as public information. Schumer countered by saying that perhaps that was not the case for all apps, including ones that made use of data posted in real time.
"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," Tribble said.
Schumer then encouraged both companies to do an evaluation of such apps to see if they would be in violation of any policies, as well as encouraging Google specifically to even extend its guidelines to include these apps. Whatever findings come from that review should be delivered back to Congress within a month's time, Schumer said, which Davidson and Tribble agreed to.
The apps in the crosshair include Buzzed and Fuzz Alert, which Schumer cited to be violators during today's hearing. As part of the crusade to get these apps removed, others like PhantomAlert, which provides information about speed traps and photo enforcement locations, have been pulled down in places like RIM's BlackBerry App World, while remaining on Apple and Google's app storefronts.
"There's only one purpose to these. We know what that is. And that is to allow drivers to avoid the checkpoints, and to avoid detection," Schumer said.