Charles Yeh, a software engineer and occasional Uber and Lyft contractor, wants his fellow drivers to obey the law. He says his app, Speed Camera Alert, which pings drivers to let them know they’re approaching a speed camera and flashes the speed limit on their cell phone screen, would help them do just that. So what if they save a bit of money in the process?
Apple disagrees. The tech giant turned downed Yeh’s application to make his Speed Camera Alert available in its app store. Yeh’s argument was that the app would help drivers navigate D.C.’s landscape of roughly 300 speed camera locations without any surprises. He got the following rejection notice:
“Your app contains content or facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity that is not legal in all of the locations where the app is available. Specifically, the primary purpose of your app is to identify speed trap locations.”
Yeh protested the decision, telling an Apple representative that his software did not identify speed traps — where posted officers try to catch speeding drivers with radar technology — but rather the location of speed cameras, information made publicly available by D.C. Police.
A demonstration of the app’s capabilities can be seen here. A D.C. Police spokeswoman raised no objections to the inclusion of the posted speed camera information in the app.
“That’s public information,” spokeswoman Aquita Brown said.
Besides, Yeh said, other apps such as Google’s Waze — a community-driven navigation app that collects information on traffic hazards and congestion — allows users to identify speed camera locations, though not as its primary function. Other apps available through Apple’s exchange claim to do the same.
But Apple closed Yeh’s case, he says, citing a violation of its App Store review guidelines. Now, he’s started a petition on change.org asking Apple CEO Tim Cook to reverse the decision. He’s got a long way to go; it only has four signatures so far. But that small detail only goes to reinforces Yeh’s “little guy” narrative.
Yeh, of Great Falls, Va., got the idea for the app after being issued a $100 speeding ticket in D.C. in December, at one of the notorious K Street speed cameras (eastbound) near Washington Circle. He thought it would be popular with non-D.C. residents like him who do business in the city, but might not be familiar with the locations of speed cameras.
“If the user knows that there is a speed camera ahead of you, you will slow down. This app kind of makes things safer for drivers,” Yeh said.
Yeh says Apple probably thought it could bully him because he’s not a big-time developer, though he has a variety of published apps under his belt.
“The explanation they gave me is very arbitrary,” he said . “They just pointed to that guideline. I don’t know why it’s so secretive. They think I’m a little guy, they can push you around.”
Radar detectors are illegal in Virginia and the District, but the phone app, based on a database published by the police department, doesn’t “detect” cameras so much as it notifies drivers they are passing through an area where a camera is present.
It’s possible the app was rejected because it could be expanded to jurisdictions where speed camera detection is illegal, which still wouldn’t explain why Waze and similar apps are allowed to operate. Repeated inquiries seeking clarification were ignored, however, and a company spokesman said Apple did not want to comment on Yeh’s case. Yeh says an Android version of the app is in development.