Today, Senators Reid, Schumer, Lautenberg and Udall released a letter they sent to mobile applications stores asking them to block distribution of traffic software apps like Trapster and PhantomALERT because user-generated input can warn drivers about drunk driving checkpoints.
While I applaud the Senators for seeking to curb drunk driving, their criticism of online traffic apps misses the point. These programs feature information about speed and red light cameras by mapping publicly available information provided by law enforcement agencies. There is also a social networking element of the apps which allows users to submit traffic information so drivers can avoid traffic jams. This makes these programs very popular attracting tens of millions of users. Law enforcement authorities have embraced these services expressing their strong approval for products that reduce speeding and improve traffic safety.
These traffic apps rely on user-submitted and law enforcement provided information. Any one of the programs’ users can submit a warning about a traffic obstruction as simply as emailing a friend or posting a message on their Facebook profile. The suggestion that the government should compel Apple, RIM, or other mobile application stores to block programs that simply allow users to report information based on location is misguided at best. Taken to its conclusion, that would require blocking apps like Foursquare and Loopt. Having the government act as arbiter of which products should be sold in stores is a slippery slope that few would welcome.