Personal Safety Apps: Do They Cause More Harm Than Good?

DES MOINES, Iowa  —  New numbers from a 2017 report show there are more than 3 million phone applications available for purchase, which is up approximately one million from 2016.

Some of those apps are used for personal safety and aim to keep users safe in dangerous situations. By giving users a way to call for help with the touch of a button, some programs are advertised as a protection aid from predators.

Some people, like Drake University freshman Samantha Bayne, wonder about the effectiveness of such apps.

“There was someone walking behind me, so I was a little worried, so I had the app open if necessary, but I didn’t end up pressing it because campus was in view,” she said.

Bayne is talking about pressing a button on a personal safety app called Drake Guardian that Drake University rolled out in 2014. The University Department of Public safety describes it as “a virtual safety escort” for students walking on campus.

Drake Guardian is on the list of other apps like Circle of Six, Red Panic Button, Guardly, Safety Genie, and bSafe. Each has its own look, but similar functions. When activated, the apps notify multiple people in the user’s phone contact list, including police, telling them they need help and sending the phone’s GPS location. The apps promise instant help in the event of an emergency.

Safety Genie says, “If you ever feel threatened you simply activate your safety genie app,” while bSafe advises “if you are ever in danger simply press the bSafe SOS button.”

These are the promises Bayne relies on: convenient ways to call for help to get her out of danger.

“It’s a very good back up plan and a way to make you feel safe even if you are not using it because you know there is always an option to press the button or to call public safety if anything dangerous were to occur,” she said.

But Bayne knows personal safety apps can’t be the only form of protection when push comes to shove. This is also what Amy Ratekin is teaching students in her combat style self-defense class. It’s a lesson one of her students learned the hard way.

“That’s why she was taking our class, she had an app and the phone got taken from her, and she still got assaulted,” said Ratekin, who teaches C.O.B.R.A Self-Defense.

Ratekin says the apps create a false sense of security that quickly fails when it counts.

“What if your friends and family are not near their phones, what if they’re downstairs watching television and their phones are upstairs?” Ratekin said. “Well that’s kind of worthless because there is no one that knows you’re in trouble now.”

Rather than reaching for a phone, Ratekin teaches students to reach for something they can defend themselves with, such as a set of keys on a lanyard that can be swung, a hot cup of coffee, or even an old C.D.

“What you do is you break it, the middle is not sharp, but the ends are sharp, and so I can slash somebody’s arm or across their face or something, and it sounds brutal to say that, but it’s either me or them, and they’ve decided to attack me,” Ratekin said.

Ratekin has spent nearly 20 years teaching self-defense to people of all ages, and she stresses the importance of self-reliance. She describes this as the ability to protect yourself when there’s trouble, rather than relying on a phone. Her message is sinking in, especially with her younger students.

“If someone is going to come up to you and try to attack you, tackle you, kidnap you, whatever, you’re going to have to know how to push them away, kick them, away, bite them,” student Owen Bucklin said.

Bucklin said the class gives him actual tools he can use. These are tools Bayne believes should be taught to everyone, since it takes more than the touch of a button to beat an attacker.

Check out some demonstrations on how to use self-defense techniques to fight off an attacker.