With the advent of fourth generation (4G) mobile telecommunications technology, particularly the Mobile WiMAX and Long Term Evolution (LTE) standards, it's become much easier for apps to use web access and IP telephony to operate. In fact, in conjunction with global positioning systems (GPS) and Wi-Fi capabilities, mobile web access enables apps which can operate as security measures in themselves. The irony is that most of the time your mobile phone is the device which is likely to be stolen if you're robbed.
As such, since the likelihood of having your phone stolen is high – particularly in South Africa – a smart move would be to have your phone insured using portable possession insurance, in addition to installing a bunch of safety apps on it. Nowadays, phones can run upwards of R15 000 and losing a phone, just like losing a laptop or camera can set you far back financially. Understandably, smartphones only started getting expensive recently and it's rare to think of something small as being:
Phones are expensive and keeping safe with these small, crime-magnets as you go about your daily life is something that should at least occupy some of your thoughts. Some of the best apps to keep yourself safe while you're out include:
This smartphone app sends fully customised, pre-set messages to a group of six people you have chosen in case of an emergency situation. You can customise your message to contain a location and address of your intended destination or where you are at the time of your distress call. You also have the option to add a request for any one of your contacts to call you as soon as possible. The main app was designed with tertiary-level girls in mind but it works for everyone, regardless of age.
Just like Circle of 6, Guardly sends emergency alerts to your contacts but what sets this app apart is the ability to set specific people for specific situations, for example "broken down car" can be linked to a mechanic or insurance provider; while "being followed" is linked directly to the police.
You can also store your personal profile in-app, listing things such as allergies for easy identification when you are too ill to speak for yourself. For a nominal subscription, the Guardly IPS (Indoor Positioning System) dispatches security data in real-time, making your indoor location visible and accurate down to the room and floor of the emergency.
Hollaback! is a security app available for Android and iPhone where you can take a photo of anyone you deem to be harassing you, and the photo will automatically be uploaded to a harassment website to warn others of the harmful person in that particular area.
You might feel safer but one major critique that can be levelled against the app is that it could be susceptible to "crying wolf" tendencies, where any altercations are simply labelled as harassment. User discretion is advised but also common courtesy or decency, especially in cases where what you deem "harassment" is more a matter of miscommunication or mutual misunderstanding.
StreetSafe offers a professional security service in two corresponding tiers. Firstly, is the Walk With Me™ service (green slider) which connects a user to a live Safety Advisor at a dedicated monitoring centre. The Safety Advisor knows exactly where you are (via GPS) and who you are (through profile data) once the app is engaged. If requested or if the Safety Advisor can sense that you're in danger, he or she will call emergency services for you.
The second is the Silent Alarm whereby the Safety Advisor is contacted without calling attention to yourself by sliding the red slider. This activates the StreetSafe Silent Alarm and the Safety Advisor will call emergency services on your behalf. Currently, StreetSafe services are limited to the US and Canada but will probably make their way overseas in due time.
The Life360 Family Locator map displays images of your family and where they were last checked in. It uses Wi-Fi and GPS to triangulate the location of your family member, giving your information such as when he or she has checked in at a restaurant if they were running late. It may not be a very detailed app but it helps to keep tabs on loved ones.
Kitestring was designed by an MIT student as an app with a difference: it doesn't require action to trigger an alert, rather inaction. You use the app by informing it when you're in a dangerous place and situation, and setting a timeframe when the app should check up on you.
If you don't reply after the app enquires, it sends an emergency message to your specified contacts. It all works via SMS so a smartphone isn't even necessary. Also, you can provide a Duress Code as a quick way to alert contacts and bypass the check-in mechanism.
Most of the apps listed were designed with the same objective in mind: to keep you safe. Whether it's reporting people who have harassed you, keeping an eye on your family or making sure that you check-in so that your presence is noted; these apps are a modern answer to an old need. Abraham Maslow, the psychologist famed for his pyramidal hierarchy of needs did not mistakenly place safety as the second level. Safety of body, employment, resources, property and health are closely tied to a person's quality of life and his or her perception of reality. Knowing that your phone now also has your back is a step in the right direction.