White House Lauds iPhone Apps in Safety Contest

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Two iPhone apps tied for first place won the top two spots in a national challenge on safety and emergency for young adults.

There were a total of 33 entries in the “Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge,” but the top two places went to iPhone apps. Both will be available for free download in early 2012.

OnWatch is designed to help young adults “most at risk for sexual violence and dating abuse,” it promises to “instantly and discreetly” connect them with trusted friends or family.

One standout feature is called “Watch my Back.” Users set up a message with a timer which they can then disable if it turns out to be unnecessary.

The sample message, set to go off in four hours, reads: “Partying at Alpha-Beta-Delta, I may be in trouble. Call me, then call campus security.” (If you’re partying, how reliably will you to remember to turn it off? Too many raver-who-cried-wolf episodes could reduce the efficacy considerably.) The app also features a direct dial icons to 911 and campus police. It will be available for other smartphones in a second iteration.

Circle of 6, works along similar lines and aims to help college-age students “stay close, stay safe and prevent violence before it happens.” The name was inspired by the statistic that 1 in 6 young women report having experienced sexual assault in college. Users add a circle of supporters to send SMS messages to in case they need a ride home, a phone call or advice. The icons make it quick and easy to get help and can send Google maps location to the circle if necessary.

“With these applications, a personal electronic device becomes a powerful tool to help young women and men protect themselves, and their friends, from becoming victims of violence,” said Vice President Biden, who encouraged college and university leaders to make students on their campuses aware of the applications when they become available for download. “Thanks to the creativity and vision of these developers, young men and women now have a new line of defense against violence.”

The contest was sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.