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.