25 Nov Using your cell phone to keep safe
The Patriot Ledger, MA, By Julie Onufrak, November 25, 2008
RANDOLPH — As an IT project manager, Alan Lee frequently travels for work. When he touches down in an unfamiliar city, he’s never sure which neighborhoods are safe to walk around in and which are not. “I thought, if I have a phone that can at least advise me of the areas to avoid, instead of asking the local folks at the gas station where to go or where not to go, that might be pretty cool,” he said. About two and a half years ago, the Randolph resident began spending his free time developing a phone application called iSafe that uses GPS technology to determine users’ locations and give them information about their surroundings. The application was one of three finalists in AT&T’s recent Fast-Pitch New England contest for mobile applications developers. The iSafe application provides information about the weather, the air quality and the pollen count, and it lets users know if a neighborhood is a high-crime area. . Users can access the free service at www.FreeFamilyWatch.com. It does not require software downloads and works on the iPhone, the Blackberry, and the Google Android. So far, Lee said iSafe has nearly 100,000 users. His server has crashed a few times from the traffic. “I get e-mails almost every day telling me what to improve and what not to improve,” he said. “So I’m getting a lot of feedback.” One of the things he is most concerned about is maintaining privacy – both that of his users and that of criminals. He doesn’t track any data about his users. The crime statistics are broken down by neighborhood, not specific addresses; even the sex offender data, which is available by house in some states, is only given by neighborhood. Lee isn’t suggesting that people should run the other way from a high-crime neighborhood. “The idea is for people to pay attention to their surroundings,” he said. “It’s basically a flag.” Though Lee did not win the AT&T contest – Cambridge company Vlingo did – he still considered it worthwhile just to expose more people to iSafe. Eventually, he will offer an upgrade that people can pay for. And in 2009, he hopes to introduce FamilySafe, an extension of iSafe that will allow parents to keep an eye on their children’s whereabouts. For now, Lee is keeping his day job at an IT consulting firm. He said it is too early to know what the future of iSafe will hold. “I just want to get feedback and improve on it, and then I’ll see what waits for me,” he said.