The “I am safe” application was written primarily in response to Britt Lapthorne’s disappearance in Croatia, but may have been brought about by the kidnap and murder of British tourists, Peter Falconio and Joanna Lees, in Northern Territory, Australia during July 2001.
It effectively “copies” the primary panic-alarm function on the typical monitored security system to your smartphone by sending out e-mail messages, SMS and / or voice messages to designated contacts as well as recording sound and providing a real-time update of the iPhone’s location on a Google map once you start this app.
There is a two-tiered delay arrangement where, after a few seconds, the phone will ring to indicate that it is gaining the location and starting recording. Then it will wait a few more seconds before sending out the e-mails and SMS messages. The messages will have a URL with reference to a “monitoring” Web page that hosts the Google map and an audio feed from the phone.
Equivalence to “panic” mode in a building alarm system
I had thought about this application further and related it to the “panic” or “hold-up” mode available on most, if not all, building alarm systems. This is usually where the user can press a dedicated “PANIC” key or, on most 12-key codepads, the * and # keys at the same time, to cause the alarm to signal to the monitoring service that the user is under threat. Similarly, some installations may use a remote panic button or wireless transmitter to fulfil this function. Some of the installations may also cause the local siren to sound in this condition.
From what I read, I also found that there are risks that can become real if tourists are faced with a nervous or paranoid attacker. One main issue is that the tourist could be forced to cancel the alert cycle or shut down the phone if the assailant is aware that the device could “rat on” them.
Possible software improvement ideas
An improvement that I would be wanting to see for this software is a PIN-to-cancel option where the user must key in a user-defined PIN number or the phone’s PIN number to cancel the alarm cycle. This would prevent the attacker from immediately cancelling the alarm cycle.
As well, I would like to see a “duress code” function as part of the PIN-to-cancel option where the user keys in a “decoy code” to immediately start the alarm cycle and transmit a special “attempt to cancel under duress” message as part of the alert message. This is again similar to most building alarm systems offering this function where the user knows a “decoy code” or "decoy modifier” for the user code that they use when they are disarming the system under duress. These systems then send a “duress” signal to the monitoring station and, in some cases, cause the local alarm to sound.
Need to port to other smartphone platforms
As well as addressing the security issues with the author, I also raised the issue of porting the program to other smartphone platforms. It’s too easy to agree that the Apple iPhone is the only smartphone on this earth but there are other platforms like the Blackberry, the Symbian S60 (Nokia phones) and the Windows Mobile platforms out there in the field. Some of these platforms, such as the Blackberry, have won hearts with the business community; and the Nokia phones have won hearts with European users. In fact, I have used Nokia Symbian S60 phones over the last two 24-month mobile-phone contracts with Telstra and am using a Nokia N85 on another 24-month plan, again with Telstra. As well, the Google Android platform is coming up as a serious contender for the Apple iPhone.
The various “ports” could provide for platform-specific features like use of the phone’s hardware keypads that are common in some of the platforms; as well as use of series-specific hardware switches. For example, the software could allow the user to press and hold down * and # together on the phone keypad or press and hold down a button on the phone’s side to instantly start the alarm cycle.
The “I am safe” application has definitely provided the concept of adding the equivalent of a monitored alarm’s “panic” or “hold-up” function to a smartphone for use around town or around the globe. It would certainly provide peace of mind for all travellers, their loved ones and their business partners / employers.