Code Words Are the Best Choice For Safety

Our safety system uses code words when we check on you. We have what we call your “I’m OK” code word and you’re “I’m not OK” code word. The “I’m OK” code word tells us you’re fine, and tells our system to check on you again later, based on the schedule you created. We hope you’ll choose a word nobody is likely to guess! The “I’m not OK” code word is a silent distress signal. Putting it into our system makes our system act like you’re OK, but behind the scenes sets off our emergency process.

I’m often asked why code words. Why not face recognition? Voice recognition? PIN numbers? Why aren’t we using any of these? The shortest answer is that it’s the most secure. Here is a screen shot from my Android phone, where it asks what I want for my phone’s home screen. It sorts each choice by how secure it is (vs how easy it would be for someone else to get into your phone). Notice that code words (or “passwords”) are considered the MOST secure.

But there are other reasons why we chose code words. Let’s walk through all the other ways you COULD check into a safety app or system to see why code words are the best.

  • Motion (like shaking the phone). If someone attacked you and grabbed your phone, shaking it to say you’re OK would be something the attacker could do. Then you don’t get help because we think you’re OK.
  • On-screen button or slider. Some safety systems have decided that the best way for you to check in is to just tap an “I’m OK” button or slide an on-screen slider. If someone attacked you and grabbed your phone, the attacker could easily do either of these things to check you in as OK. Then you don’t get help because we think you’re OK. In our opinion, all the safety apps using this method are not truly solving personal safety; they’re too easily disengaged.
  • Face recognition. If someone attacked you and grabbed your phone, he or she could hold the phone to your face. The phone would recognize your face, and you’d check into our system. Then you don’t get help because we think you’re OK.
  • Voice recognition. If someone attacked you and grabbed your phone, they could make you speak into it. Studies have also found that when you are under stress, your voice isn’t quite the same. We didn’t want to risk you checking in as OK when you’re not, or setting off the emergency when you’re OK because of voice recognition issues.
  • Pattern (like drawing a pattern on the phone). If someone attacked you and grabbed your phone, he or she might not be able to guess your pattern before time counts down. So this seems like a good choice for checking in. However, we think that most people have enough trouble remembering ONE pattern. For our system, you have to remember two (“I’m OK” and “I’m not OK”). Patterns can be hard to remember, so while they could work, we though they weren’t the best choice.
  • PIN (like your ATM card). If someone attacked you and grabbed your phone, he or she might not be able to guess your PIN before time counts down. So this seems like a good choice for checking in. However, we think that most people have trouble remembering numbers. Nowadays, people can barely remember their PINs, and we don’t memorize phone numbers anymore since our phone store them for us. For our system, you would have to remember two PINs (“I’m OK” and “I’m not OK”). While PINs could work, we though they weren’t the best choice because we think people aren’t likely to remember strings of numbers.
  • Password (or code word). Android thinks this is the most secure, and it is. Hardest to guess. And if you love numbers, you could make your CheckInOn.Me code words strings of numbers. We won’t stop you! But a word or phrase would be hardest for an attacker to guess and easiest for you to remember. When you home alarm company calls you because your alarm went off, they ask your password. They don’t ask for strings for numbers. Passwords and high-level safety already go hand in hand, and that’s the direction we took.

Code words are the easiest to remember while being the hardest for someone else to guess. For our system, you only get to get it wrong once. If you enter in the wrong word twice at check-in time, we assume you’re in trouble and set off the emergency. So whether you choose food words, pet words, words from another language, or something that’s easy for you to type, this is the strongest security you can create. This beats numbers alone, screen gestures, and faces or voices.

You’re welcome!


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Focusing on Realtors and Property Managers

CEO Debbie here! This week, I will be at the National Association of Realtors conference in Orlando, Florida. You can find me in the Innovation Open House area of the expo floor on Friday only. Please get in touch if you want to schedule a meeting.

One of the main groups we’re focused on making safer is realtors and property managers. These brave people are often taking strangers into a strange neighborhood to show them properties they hope are empty. Who knows what could be waiting for them in that house, apartment, or building. And who knows who their potential client even is. Incredibly scary, and sometimes ending tragically.

A friend who is a realtor in Vegas recently told me that two of his co-workers “narrowly escaped a predator,” and now they want to learn more about what CheckInOn.Me can do for them. We’ve also heard from realtors in Mexico, where kidnappings for ransom are all too common.

With our Developer Platform, we want to work with realtors and realties on making agents safer and more confident, and give them more of a safety net than they’ve ever had before. We can customize our technology and approach for your existing systems as well as the phones or tablets your agents are using. Whether you need a phone app or a text messaging system (or both), we can help create that solution.

Consultations are free. My background is UX, so it has always been my job to figure out how to make features easy, fast, and intuitive. I’ll happily help anybody brainstorm how the CheckInOn.Me platform can be used for realtors (or any business, of course!).


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Could CheckInOn.Me Have Made Any Difference: Jessica Ridgeway

When I hear news stories relating to personal safety, I often wonder if our system could have made anything better. The heartbreaking story of Jessica Ridgeway really brought that to mind for me. The story is beyond a tragedy to begin with. But on top of that, you have the mother missing the school’s call, so she didn’t know her child was missing for many hours. My partner here at CheckInOn.Me said that at his kids’ school, if his kids are absent, he gets a robocall in the early afternoon. That’s WAY too late!

Can I build a product that helps kids be safer on walks to and from school? Could we have made any difference here? I want to build the product that allows those answers to be, “Yes.” The whole reason for building CheckInOn.Me is to prevent crimes where possible and get people help sooner during a crime or health emergency.

Let’s say a child uses our system to be checked on every 5 minutes on a walk to school. We check on you, and wait for your response. You get three minutes to respond. Since our app works with code words, the wrong code word or NO code word would set off an emergency. So there’s no way it can be disengaged. We even have a distress code word that checks you in but silently triggers the emergency. We’re also grabbing your GPS points every 10 minutes.

Of course, this is how our smartphone app works, but anybody can use our API to build it to behave differently. But this means that in this scenario, it would never take more than 8 minutes to notify people that someone is not responding to our check. Someone building an app on our platform that’s more for kids might choose to make the response time shorter and the GPS point collection more frequent.

Our system can notify as many people as you enter. So it could be set up to notify the child’s mother, father, grandmother, and neighbours. Choose a group of people so that one person missing our emergency notification can still leaves others who will respond immediately to it.

A lot can happen in 8 minutes. I can’t stop someone from committing a crime. I don’t know that our product could have changed any outcome. But I can’t help but wonder what could go differently when we know a child is missing a few minutes in rather than waiting for the school to figure it out or waiting for the school to (robo)call one phone number.

We always want ideas on how our product can make people safer or get them help more quickly. Contact us if you want to make a suggestion on what our system should do and how it should do it.


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Open Job: App Developer

Come make people around the world safer by working with our personal safety startup!

This position will be under our CTO, Rich. He’s in Las Vegas. Our CEO is in San Francisco. You can be just about anywhere in North America.

The centre of our biz model is our API, but we’re also doing mobile apps too. Android is first.

Requirements
- Experience with native Android development
- Knoweldge of Android SDK 11+ requirements
- OOP Expertise

Would be nice:
- Android threading experience
- PHP experience
- Building of Android libraries and/or development tools
- iOS development (after our Android adventures)

We have a small budget to get you some payment. The salary is not completely competitive, but we are also OK with someone with consistent part-time time. We only have a little bit of seed funding, but need to spend that on dev.

Please email info AT check in on DOT me with your resume, code samples to impress our CTO, and your LinkedIn URL.

Thanks!


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You’re Being Followed: Open A Phone App?

If you read this blog, then you know that if you are in an emergency, you are conscious, and you have your phone, please call 911. Do not wait for anything. Do not mess with phone apps. 911 is always your best option as they will understand where you are and what you need.

Not all phone apps agree with me. One (who I won’t name) had this on their website in 2011. I couldn’t find it this year, but I had to screen shot it because it was a gem.

Let me walk you through that… because to me, it sounds like a Monty Python sketch.

You feel you are being followed. Where I grew up, the next thing you should do would be run, get to safety, go into a shop, do ANYTHING so you are not online on a quiet street. They suggest launching their phone app, which then tells your friends where you are and that you are in trouble.

This app THEN dials 911 for you. I’m not sure why that was not done FIRST. In emergency situations, time is of the essence. You can’t get time back. Seconds can count. If you’re going to use a panic button app, once you set it off, why wouldn’t it dial 911 first? Just doesn’t make sense to me. But in this company’s scenario, you have NOW dialed 911.

While you are on with 911, you will be using this company’s emergency website to send messages and updates to your friends. This app was clearly built by someone who has never been on the phone with 911 while afraid for their safety. I’m sorry to say that I have been. I dated a guy who went wacko one day, and threatened to kill me. I took that threat seriously, and called 911. I felt like my online lifeline was that dispatcher. You could not have paid me to take that phone away from my head, certainly not to text friends, “Yeah, the cops aren’t here yet. Yes, I’m still afraid for my life. So whazzup wit’ you?”

So now, I’m beyond wondering where this company’s User Experience expert was in planning out these processes. But that’s just because I’m a User Experience expert, and I can’t make sense of this app’s ideas of how a customer will behave. But hey, we’re not done walking through this scenario.

Your “pursuer” is getting closer. This means you have NOT done a good job getting yourself to safety. You didn’t jump on a bus or go into a subway station or into a shop. You didn’t run away from this person. This must be taking place in some friendly Canadian city, where “pursuers” give you time to call 911 and text updates to friends via a phone app! :)

Finally, you activate the phone app’s loud siren. NOW your pursuer knows you are not an easy target, and backs off. It only took a loud siren coming out of a cell phone to stop an attack? Really? And the cops still aren’t there?

In reality, loud sirens rarely do anything. Think about your own experiences. When is the last time you heard a car alarm or whistle, and decided you had to run towards it to see if you could help somebody? Probably never. When is the last time a car alarm type of sound stopped a pursuer from pursuing? I don’t know. I guess it must happen to someone. Someone didn’t get attacked because of a loud sound. I would think the most effective loud sound is someone screaming or crying for HELP. That might get my attention more than a phone app setting off a siren, which could mean anything.

So in closing, as usual, I am unimpressed by another panic button app. It’s not proactive and it’s easily disengaged. It doesn’t make logical sense for what someone might experience or need during an emergency. What does this phone app suggest if the pursuer catches up to you before you can hit a panic button?


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When Is 911 Not Your Best Option?

If you read this blog, you know I’m not a fan of panic button phone apps. They assume you will have your phone, consciousness, and the ability to unlock your phone, find the app, launch the app, and set off a panic button. With how fast emergencies happen, I always find this assumption unlikely.

But what I saw on the website for one of the many panic button apps really threw me. The company said that you need their app because in some cases, calling 911 is not your best option. Let me say that again… they believe that there are emergency scenarios in which you should NOT call 911. Here is a screen shot from their site about this:

That’s right. If you are being kidnapped, carjacked, robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint, choked, injured, or assaulted, this company thinks you should not call 911. You should find their app, launch their app, and hit the panic button. Their panic button tells up to 5 friends your GPS location. Or for a monthly fee, the panic button can evidently contact their monitoring centre (think pressing the LifeAlert button). Evidently, their panic button can also call 911. So DON’T call 911… let them call 911. ?!?!?!

Still, I’m not sure why you’re not just calling 911. You’re so lucky to be conscious and have your phone with you when you are a hostage or in a terrorist attack. A terrorist attack. This company suggests you NOT dial 911 and instead hit their panic button. I’m sorry, but I just can’t imagine that.

To us, a personal safety system must do two things right to really work for its users. It must be proactive (rather than wait for you to activate it), and it must be nearly impossible to disengage. If your terrorist or hostage-taker grabs your phone and shuts off your safety system, then it was useless.

I’d love to know what safety systems like the company I won’t name suggests for what you should do if you are unconscious or your phone has been taken from you. CheckInOn.Me would still send out your call for help!


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How To Stay Safe When Using Craigslist

I live in San Francisco. The news last night had a top story about how to stay safer with Craigslist. What they reported was actually an interesting idea.

Complete your in-person Craigslist transaction in the lobby of a police department or sheriff’s station. Yes, they were serious. Evidently around here, people were meeting in parking lots during the day to try to NOT get robbed, but some got robbed anyway. Someone had the Macbook he was trying to sell get taken from him at gunpoint.

If you told the other party in a Craiglist transaction that you wanted to meet in the lobby of a police station while cops were there, and the other person doesn’t want that, well that tells you a lot right there!

Of course, you can then use CheckInOn.Me to make sure you get home safely. The police may protect you while you are in their building, but let’s also make sure you get home safely and bolt that door behind you.


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