Saturday, September 26, 2015

Family Tech: You are not walking home alone if you have a companion app - September 25, 2015

The young college student was startled to hear her college library was closing. “Midnight, already?” she said.

She dreaded walking across campus to her dorm alone so late. Bad things had happened recently on campus.

A guy emerged from a bar and realized he was further from his apartment that he had planned and had had a couple more beers then he should. The streets would be full of other drunken guys and he’d seen fights over trivial things.

If you know anyone who has to take risky walks, there is a new class of apps to help keep them safe.

I first read about Companion Safety App in a “Business Insider” article a few weeks ago. I took the unusual step of posting about it first at because I was so certain it could help someone and I wanted to gain some feedback on this class of apps before writing about them here.

Companion Safety App, available for both IOS and Android, lets you contact a friend and have them walk with you virtually. The friend is contacted by the app via text message. They can accept or decline. More than one person can be asked in one action and the first one to respond favorably acts as the companion.

The friend monitors the trip home on a map showing the route. If the walker feels threatened, they can press an emergency button that calls the police.

If the phone is dropped, the person breaks into a run or the headphones are snatched away, the phone gives you 15 seconds to press Yes to an “Are you OK?” query. After 15 seconds the app automatically goes into a danger mode and makes an alarm sound that hopefully will scare off most attackers and it contacts your companion.

There also is an “I’m feeling nervous” button. Pressing it allows the companion to build a database of areas people do not like, and share that with campus or local police.

The companion does not need to have the app, although that helps. They can also monitor their friend’s trip on a web link.

The app does not expect you to be talking to your companion. Walkers can remain alert to their surroundings and not distracted by conversation.

The program was created by University of Michigan students for other students and it is free.

I asked a college friend of ours if she’d heard of this app, and she hadn’t. However, she said it sounded a lot like one Longview University was promoting for students to use.

LiveSafe is from a commercial company. The app is free. It has partnerships with several universities in the region including Northern Virginia Community College, James Madison, Old Dominion, and St. Michaels.

The LiveSafe app offers a virtual walk home as well as allowing you to chat with your companion, as it shows the companion your route on the way home. The app makes it easy to contact campus police by either the walker or the companion. The companion must also have the app on their phone. The app can share your location information with the police so that in a stressful time, they will know where they are needed even if the caller is flustered or panicky.

LiveSafe is set up as a way to promote communications between students and safety officials, both gathering information from students and disseminating information to help keep students safe.

Our phones’ ability to communicate by both text and voice – and know and report our location – leads to ways to help keep us safe.

These same apps can be used for others, for example those walking from a bus across a dark commuter lot, or someone slugging home from work.

Or even a free-range child who finds himself frightened by the walk ahead of him to home and would like a little reassurance someone is at least virtually with them on the journey.

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