RIM bows to pressure, yanks BlackBerry DUI checkpoint app

'Not an app for that,' says Sen. Schumer after RIM removes PhantomALERT from App World

Research in Motion said Wednesday that it would comply with a request made by four U.S. senators, and will pull BlackBerry apps that alert drivers of police drunk-driving checkpoints.

"RIM's decision to remove these apps from their online store proves that when it comes to drunk driving, there should not be an app for that," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), one of the four lawmakers, in a statement Wednesday.

At least one app has disappeared from the BlackBerry App World.

On Tuesday, Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Schumer, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Tom Udall (D-NM) asked Apple, Google and RIM to pull an unspecified number of apps from their mobile app markets.

RIM is the first of the three smartphone operating system makers to confirm that it's removing applications from their online marts.

The senators had problems with apps that include alerts of upcoming sobriety checkpoints, a feature in some programs that also warns drivers of user-reported speed traps, roving radar-equipped patrol cars and recent accidents. Many of the apps integrate a smartphone's built-in GPS to display police and accident locations.

"Giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern," the senators said in their letter to executives at Apple , Google and RIM.

Joe Scott, the CEO of PhantomALERT, the only app cited by name in the senators' letter, confirmed that RIM had pulled his program.

"It was recently brought to RIM's attention that the PhantomALERT application for BlackBerry raises public safety concerns, specifically around the functionality that allows an end user to avoid police checkpoints set up to catch drivers under the influence," read an e-mail from RIM that Scott shared with Computerworld. "In response to this concern, RIM has removed the application from BlackBerry App World."

Apple and Google have not answered Computerworld's requests for comment.

RIM did not respond to further questions today, including how many apps it has yanked, and their titles.

PhantomALERT is produced by a Harrisburg, Penn.-based company of the same name. As of 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, a search for the app on the BlackBerry App World site came up empty. However, the program was still available on Google's Android Market and Apple's App Store.

On Wednesday, Scott again argued that PhantomALERT is "100% legal" and said the senators' concerns were unwarranted. "I think we are misjudged. If they really understood what we are doing and aim to achieve they would actually support us," Scott said in an e-mail.

One trade group agreed with Scott.

"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," said the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), a Washington-based group that claims to represent more than 3,000 small- and mid-sized IT companies. "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."

ACT also counts Microsoft , Oracle and eBay among its members.

Not all states conduct DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated) checkpoints. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association , 38 states as well as the District of Columbia allow police to run such checkpoints.

Twelve states, including Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Oregon, do not.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

Read more about mobile apps and services in Computerworld's Mobile Apps and Services Topic Center.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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