Drivers slam ‘secret police’ app that turns phones into speed trap tool

Public app that lets users report others to authorities compared to Cold War-era spying by motorists

Tuesday, 19th April 2022, 11:35 am

A new app which claims to turn smartphones into mobile speed traps has been slammed by motorists who have described it as like something from Cold War-era East Germany.

The Speedcam Anywhere’s developers claim to have had to hide their identities after receiving a vicious response from users since launching the app in March.

Its creators say they hope the app, which uses a phone’s camera to estimate the speed of passing vehicles, will help improve road safety by highlighting speeding hot spots. However, its reliance on members of the public to record and report other drivers has seen them accused of turning road users against each other.

Several online reviews have even likened the idea behind the app to the tactics of the Stasti - communist East Germany’s feared secret police, which encouraged citizens to inform on each other.

The app’s developers say they want to help authorities identify speeding hot spots

The app’s creators say that they do not have a “vendetta” against anyone but want to see road users obey the law.

Its founder told the Guardian: “It’s a Marmite product – some people think it’s a good idea, some people think that it turns us into a surveillance state.

“I can see both sides of that, but I think that if you’re going to have speed limits, then it’s the law that you obey them, and you should enforce the law.

“It’s not a personal vendetta against anyone, it’s just – how do we make our roads safe? There are 20,000 serious injuries on the roads every year – how can we reduce them? And the way we reduce them is we make a deterrent to speeding.”

While some online reviews have welcomed the idea behind the app, others have accused its developers of supporting a “totalitarian” state, and suggested its use could lead to confrontations between drivers and users.

One review labelled the app “Stasi-cam Anywhere”, saying: “Use it for settling vendettas or getting back at the neighbour who always takes your parking space”.

Another said: “In East Germany, citizens were encouraged to report their neighbours to the Stasi for even the smallest societal infraction. ‘Congratulations’ on creating a modern day version of that. If you couldn’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. This app disgusts me.”

The app claims to use artificial intelligence to work out a vehicle’s speed. Users record a vehicle on their phone via the app then it uses the registration number to access make and model data from the DVLA. Using that, it works out the vehicle’s wheelbase and estimates a speed based on the footage, comparing that to local speed limits based on GPS data.

Users have to pay for “credits” to then be able to process and share the footage with authorities.

However, the footage cannot be used to issue speeding tickets or prosecute drivers as the app’s technology has not been approved by the Home Office so can’t be used as evidence by police or the courts.

Online reviews have accused the app’s developers of simply trying to make money from users and also widely criticised its accuracy and usability.

When the app was first launched Google refused to allow it on the Play Store due to questions about its functionality. However, the developers have been able to satisfy the search giant that the app works as advertised. Apple, however, still refuses to list the iOS verision app on its App Store.