society How user-friendly is the new app designed to keep women safe?

‘We hope you never have to use this app.’ This is the first update that appears on your touch screen the moment you install Channel V’s VithU, an emergency safety app designed for women.

After installation, a power button appears on the phone. On tapping the button twice, a message: ‘I am in danger. I need help. Please follow my location,’ along with your location details will reach pre-loaded contacts.  

The Delhi and Bombay rape incidents acted as a trigger for coming up with the app, says Prem Kamath, GM and channel head, Channel V. The Mumbai incident shook them, he says. “The journalist was forcibly made to call her mother and tell her she was fine.” She had technology, yet it was turned against her!,” he says. This is a great initiative, says Sanjay, an engineering student. “It can be a life saving app as it can be used quickly and discreetly. Imagine a scenario when a woman receives calls from her closed ones. That alone will frighten her attackers,” he says. Sanjay suggests an additional feature for the app, where it will also send an alert to the nearest police station or help line. But, the app comes with certain conditions. The phone needs GPS and Internet for tracking the location all the time. “I’m not sure how many people would remember to turn it on every time,” says Sanjay. GPS drains the battery faster, says research scholar Minu Sara Paul. “This creates difficulties, especially when you are travelling.”

The panic button can also be triggered by mistake. With many Android phones having a similar mechanism for opening screen-locks and power, this can lead to people accidentally using the app, creating unnecessary panic. Accessibility is another issue. The app is available only on high-end Android phones and has not been optimised for the low-to-mid range phones, says tech writer Sabyasachi Biswas. Also, once the Google Locater Service is on, it sends information not only to your VithU contact list but also third party sites, says Minu. “For instance, when you post something on Facebook, it will show your exact location details. This is something I don’t want to share on a public platform. This will lead to additional security issues,” she feels.