Department of Transportation wants control over your phone's navigation apps

The next time Google-owned Waze decides to add a new feature to its app, the U.S. government—not users—may decide whether the feature is worth keeping. The U.S. Department of Transportation is asking for explicit power to regulate navigation devices of all types, including apps on your smartphone or tablet.

A measure in the proposed GROW (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America) America Act would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the authority to set restrictions on apps and also order changes if the app's features are considered dangerous, according to The New York Times.

The NHTSA wouldn't approve apps before new versions were released, but it would have the authority to pull back any features the agency felt would contribute to distracted driving.

Giving the NHTSA explicit power to regulate navigation apps is part of the U.S. DoT's current fight against distracted driving. In April 2013, the NHTSA created voluntary guidelines for minimizing in-vehicle distractions that targeted dashboard systems. Moving on to driving-related smartphone apps is a logical next step.

But some parts of the technology industry apparently aren't too thrilled with the notion of governmental oversight. The Intelligent Car Coalition, a year-old industry group, told the Times that the NHTSA doesn't have the "budget or the structure to oversee both Silicon Valley and the auto industry."

Whether the ICC can honestly claim to represent major players in the navigation app market is debatable. The ICC doesn't publish its complete member list. But sifting through the site, the ICC said AT&T, Intel, and Verizon were members. However, the group does not mention Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, or any other major smartphone maker as part of its membership roster.

Apple, Google, and Nokia (the current company, not Microsoft's recent devices and services acquisition) are key technology companies for navigation and mapping on mobile devices.

In January, however, the ICC did add the CTIA-The Wireless Association. CTIA is responsible for the annual CTIA Wireless Tradeshow and is a representative trade group that includes all the major mobile players in the U.S. as members.

Whether or not the bill passes as is, regulators say they already have authority over navigation apps, according to the Times. Explicit authorization in the proposed legislation would simply make it difficult to argue with the NHTSA's authority.

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