Mobile Apps for Women’s Safety: The Technology Point of View

Digital Innovations and Technologies have become a part of all of our lives in some way or other. Individuals are connected through different devices, organizations run their businesses on digital platforms and use digital technologies for promotion and campaigns, governments all across the globe are moving towards becoming digital economies and so on.

It is important to note that with an increase in (i) internet speed, (ii) its coverage area (reaching rural areas as well) and (iii) new devices such as tablets, cell phones etc., there has been greater acceptance of digital innovations over the years. As a result of this combination of digital innovation and its acceptance, new digital technologies are developing at a very rapid pace.

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(c) Appsynth.net

One of the contributions Digital Technologies have had to society has come in the form of their impact on women’s security. With a phone in hand, may it be a cell phone or smartphone, a woman has access to the police and help is just a click away. The devices and the internet have given women the power to contact others for help when required. This is useful when incidents take place.

It is equally crucial to prevent such incidents (even teasing, sexual assaults etc.) and protect women against violence before such incidents take place. One method of prevention is through social media where people can share their views about a certain area being unsafe for women. But this happens at a personal level, within the individual’s social network. Another way to do this is to have a mobile application such as Safetipin installed on a device – this is a user-generated content app that rates areas according to their safety in real-time.

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(c) Safetipin

Developing a mobile application raises many challenges: managerial, societal, technological etc. Looking at if from a technology point of view, there are a few important things about these mobile applications and their acceptance, especially in the Indian scenario, that need to be take into account.

  • In India, smartphones cost as low as INR 3, 500 (approx. 45 GBP). These smartphones have basic features and limited internal space. Hence, while preparing an application for such devices, it is important to keep the size (KB or GB or more) of the app in mind. If the app is heavy i.e. it has too many features, large  videos and photos, the app will take time to install and slow the phone down because it will be using most of the internal space. This will lead to frustration and so the user may choose to either not install the app, or soon uninstall it.
  • System Compatibility is another major concern. There are many different types of platforms (operating systems) such as Android, Windows, iOS etc. available for different smartphone devices with various screen sizes. Creating an application which is compatible with all of the devices and platforms is a challenge, and yet it is also essential. For example, if I own an Android phone, but the app is only available for iOS devices, then I won’t be able to use it. Another example would be if I owned a comparatively older version of the phone and the app is not backward compatible –  in that case I would also not be able to use it.
  • Internet connection: There are certain apps that do not require internet connection such as a few gaming apps, apps for managing files offline etc. But for an application such as Safetipin, an internet connection is essential as it uses real-time data. Therefore, if the app is installed on the device, but the internet connection is missing, then the app will not perform. For a safety mobile app, the potential difficulties resulting from having a very slow internet speed and disruption in the internet connection have to be kept in mind. For example, a woman may be trying to use the app in a basement of an office, in a bus which passes through a tunnel for several minutes, or even when entering an elevator. In all of these cases the internet speed would be very slow. Hence, the app must be light enough (small size of app) to ensure that it produces results with the least possible speed. Moreover, some features of the app can also be made to work offline, such as when data can be saved and then uploaded later.
  • Awareness: There are millions of mobile apps available across the many app stores. Are citizens aware of these safety apps? Though a large number of people use smartphones on a regular basis, the number of apps they use daily is usually limited to just a few. Why would anyone choose to install this safety app? It is important to make these safety apps visible to citizens by using digital strategies such as digital marketing to persuade them to install it. Social media marketing, online display ads and retargeting marketing can help in making citizens aware. Moreover, offline campaigns, such as through newspapers and other media, can also be used.
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(c) MobilMindz.com.
  • App analytics: Lastly, analyzing the app performance and its response is of utter importance. App analytics help us discover more about: (i) the technical issues, such as how many apps have been installed, reveal what loading problems have occurred, how many users uninstalled the app, what technical problems have occurred etc. as well as provide information on (ii) users’ behavior, such as how many times the users use the app in a day, how much time they spent on the app, what comments they have added and how they otherwise interacted with the app etc. These two parameters serve to further help in understanding the performance of the app and, hence, improve the quality of the app.

By Dr Rakhi Tripathi, Project Co-Investigator & Head of the Centre for Digital Innovation, Fore School of Management, India

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