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3/19/2010
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Personal Panic-Button Apps Land On Mobile Phones

Personal security apps for mobile phones are here, and famed criminal profiler and frequent NBC/MSNBC guest commentator Clinton Van Zandt is getting into the act. Van Zandt is now featuring on his LiveSecure.org Website, among other personal security products, a silent panic-button app for smartphones. Separately, a new start-up called SafeKidZone is also about to launch a new panic-button app and service for kids' mobile phones.

Personal security apps for mobile phones are here, and famed criminal profiler and frequent NBC/MSNBC guest commentator Clinton Van Zandt is getting into the act. Van Zandt is now featuring on his LiveSecure.org Website, among other personal security products, a silent panic-button app for smartphones. Separately, a new start-up called SafeKidZone is also about to launch a new panic-button app and service for kids' mobile phones.It's no surprise that mobile phone applications would eventually emerge that use GPS for something other than obtaining directions and stalking your friends. Dark Reading blogger Rob Enderle last week actually raised the issue of the need for personal security tools in his blog -- calling for a kind of next-generation OnStar-like wearable device that could prepare and alert first responders for medical emergencies or home invasions and other crimes.

SafeKidZone is initially focused on child safety, although its president, Don Ferguson, says the technology will eventually be extended to the elderly and other adults, as well. The application can be downloaded to any mobile phone with a GPS, and it basically programs one of the phone's keys as a panic button. So if a child is abducted, God forbid, he can push the button and the child's selected network of family and friends are automatically alerted via email or text message. SafeKidZone's call center, which also receives his GPS coordinates, opens up a conference call among the message recipients so they can coordinate and take action. "If a parent sees it's an emergency, the call center can then escalate the call to 911" services and provide them with the child's GPS location, photo, and other information, says Ryan Sherstobitoff, chief corporate evangelist for SafeKidZone.

The big advantage here is that it provides 911 services with the specific location of the child. 911 dispatchers can't detect exact locations of callers when they dial in via their cellphones, so sometimes the margin of error can be substantial, SafeKidZone's Ferguson says. SafeKidZone is offering a free trial of its service now, and plans to roll it out fully in the next two months, first in Los Angeles and other parts of California. It will be priced from $7.95 a month to $9.95 a month and works on all types of smartphones, as well as on cellphones (but without the GPS feature).

Meantime, the new Silent Bodyguard from LiveSecure.org is more of an app than a service, priced at $3.99 for iPhones, iPod Touch, and iPad, and then will be extended to the BlackBerry in a few months. It's a silent panic button, where a person in distress basically sends an SOS signal with GPS coordinates by pressing a button on his or her cell phone; the data is sent to responders (parents, neighbors, etc.) who are preprogrammed in his or her smartphone. The app, which is sold via iTunes, was created by a concerned mom.

I'm also a concerned mom who has this vision of her son hitting the panic button from school to alert me that he forgot his homework. That's a false positive I'd be happy to trade for a real emergency, but it makes me wonder how this technology won't make parents even more paranoid than we already are today. Still, these mobile apps are finally tapping the true potential of the phone's GPS for personal safety.

-- Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading Follow Kelly (@kjhiggins) on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kjhiggins Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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