At the end of 2016, a mishap between a confused truck driver and a commercial train ended with federal investigators asking Apple, Google, and Microsoft to include railroad crossings on their navigation applications. To date, none of the major tech companies have followed through on the advice. US safety advocates claim that the lack of action on the part of the manufacturers could have serious long-term consequences for the safety of users of the applications. With the number of drives that currently rely on their phone’s GPS as their sole form of navigation, these genuine threats to human safety should enter consideration and manufacturers should include it in the data these apps transmit.
Tech giant Google is reported as saying that they are aware of the suggestions but made the note that creating and maintaining a navigation application is a balancing act. Updates pf such a large volume of data could potentially disrupt users and render the app unusable in some cases. While the disruption is undesirable, it raises other questions as to why this data wasn’t included in the original iteration of the application if it was such a fundamental addition to navigation. Apple and Microsoft have not commented on the state of their navigation applications concerning the availability of railroad crossing data.
While the addition of railroad crossing data to map data has the potential to save lives, Daniel Stevens, head of the group Campaign for Accountability who has been observing Google for some time for the organization’s Google Transparency Project, notes that the search giant usually makes decisions that benefit the company monetarily. The FRA has received some agreements from companies to date on whether they intend to implement the railroad crossing data into their apps, including Google and Apple. However, companies seem to be paying lip-service to legislators without actually implementing the recommended changes. With congress currently monitoring these tech companies’ undertakings, it may be interesting to note what fallout failing to follow the recommended action will have for the companies.