Google and Apple took some heat in Congress recently over carrying DUI checkpoint apps in their online marketplaces, which lawmakers say pose a harmful risk to public safety.
Senator Charles Schumer grilled Apple and Google over their apps at the inaugural hearing of the Privacy and Technology Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary this week.
“Apple and Google shouldn’t be in the business of selling apps that help drunk drivers evade the police,” Schumer said. “They shouldn’t be selling apps that they themselves admit are ‘terrible’.”
A public grilling in one of the most prominent fishbowls of the country indicates a new level of scrutiny that mobile devices are falling under as they become a more ubiquitous part of everyday life.
Apps continue to grow in popularity with larger audiences, with over 350,000 programs now available on Apple’s iTunes store alone. And the tech giants may have to take a stronger moral stand by filtering which apps can make the cut, leaving behind ones that are deemed offensive or pose a serious threat to public safety.
Both the Apple and Google sell several apps that allow users to possibly evade DUI checkpoints. “Fuzz Alert,” for instance, helps iPhone users evade police blockades, in addition to “Buzzed,” “Checkpointer” or “Tipsy,” while Android Market has “Checkpoint Wingman” and “Mr. DUI.”
“The super small, one time fee of $4.99 spent today on Checkpointer could potentially save you thousands of dollars by helping you avoid an arrest for DUI,” one app description said.
In March, Senators Harry Reid, Frank Lautenberg, Mark Udall and Schumer asked app stores to pull all DUI checkpoint programs. Only Research in Motion complied.
RIM immediately removed one of it’s DUI-checkpoint apps, “PhantomAlert,” which contained a database of 500,000 checkpoint locations, including school zones and dangerous intersections.
Meanwhile, Alan Davidson, Google’s director of public policy, said that it adheres to a set of content policies to remove apps that are unlawful or spread malware, but does not see the DUI checkpoint apps as a cause for concern. Apple said they would be “looking into” the legal status of DUI checkpoint apps.
“We have a policy that we don’t allow apps that encourage illegal activity. If the app’s intent is to encourage people to break the law, then we will pull it,” said Guy Tribble, Apple’s vice-president of software technology.
Unimpressed, Schumer said their actions were a “weak read” on the situation.
This is not the first time eyebrows have been raised over questionable apps. “Baby Shaker,” an app promoting a “gay cure” and illegal immigrant smuggling games have all been given the pink slip from Apple over strenuous objections from consumers.
Judging from the heat that Apple and Google took in the Senate, it won’t be the last time that apps garner controversy, especially as the market for them heats up.
Schumer gave Google and Apple 30 days notice to remove the apps from their stores.