The Companion Safety App

The Internet is abuzz with stories of the new Companion App that could increase safety. It’s an app (available for both iPhone and Android) created by five students from the University of Michigan that allows you to ask a friend (or several friends) to virtually follow along with you between your current location and your final destination via GPS. This person keeps tabs on you and can respond right away if something happens to you.

screenshot4The app also proactively asks if you’re okay if it notices specific movements.

If you stray from your destination, start running, or have your headphones pulled out of the phone, the app asks if you’re okay. You have 15 seconds to indicate you’re okay. If you don’t select “Yes” (you’re okay), a loud alarm sounds from your phone to deter assailants and you’re given the option to call the police.

If you feel unsafe or need assistance, it’s just a single tap to call the police. Your friend can also call the police on your behalf. Since they can see where you’re phone is located, they can easily give directions to the police.

When one of my friends sent me a link to the app, I was intrigued. The app is a great idea. I’ve always done something manually via text (without the added GPS functionality).

But I have to admit I have a lot of questions about the Companion app. At the risk of sounding crass, I question it’s effectiveness at keeping people safe. I wonder if it’s a way for people to pass the buck on their own personal safety. By using this app, are people more likely to plug both their headphones into their ears and reduce situational awareness? Or are they likely to become more aware?

If something bad happens, how effective would it be on getting you the help you need quickly?

I’m clearly conflicted. Technology can be a beautiful thing, but I’ve read too many studies that show the intended result produces the opposite outcome.

Does it create a safer society or a false sense of security? Does it create the illusion of safety?

I’m trying to reserve judgment. The intentions are good and I commend these students for creating something worthwhile and compelling.

I look forward to seeing the effects and consequences (good or bad) of the app.

What are your experiences with the app? Do you think it’s a good idea or a bad one?

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