Apps can keep you safe, even when your date's a dud

Meeting people on the internet can be risky, so developers are designing apps to protect you.

Alison Vayne Staff writer
Alison is an intern for the summer at CNET News. She is currently attending UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where she is focusing on video journalism. She comes from Paris, France, but has been in the U.S. for some time now. She has written about video games and coding programs for kids and San Quentin State Prison inmates. She is based in San Francisco.
Alison Vayne
4 min read
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There are apps to help find a partner, and then there are apps to keep you safe on a date.

James Martin/CNET

This is part of CNET's "It's Complicated" series about the role technology plays in our relationships.

Blind dating is definitely a thing.

More than 90 percent of US singles say they've used an online dating site or app. And if that includes you, ask yourself this uncomfortable question: Did you stretch the truth about yourself in your online profile?

Sure, it's almost expected that someone will tell a little white lie about weight or age. But things can get tense fast when your date isn't the easy-going artist-type he described on his profile.

That's why there's a growing list of apps with one purpose: keeping you safe while you're on a date. They take advantage of the technology that's built into your phone, such as GPS and alerts. And they do everything from messaging your friends and the authorities when you get into trouble to monitoring the location of your phone -- and by extension, you.

Here are a few.

College life


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For many women, college life is downright dangerous: In a national survey, 15 percent of female students said they'd been raped on campus, and 12 percent said they'd been the victims of attempted rape. More than half of these attacks occurred on dates.

Circle of 6 recruits friends when you're in an emergency situation. As the name suggests, you register six friends as primary contacts. Tapping the app will display three buttons: A pushpin, a phone call and chat. The pushpin sends an automatic text message, complete with your GPS location, to your six friends. The call button sends your location and a request that they call you about an "emergency." The chat icon is in case you just need to talk.

Similar apps include OnWatch and PanicGuard.

They're all clever ideas, though the GPS can sometimes be less than precise.

University of California, Berkeley tested roughly 80 apps and found GPS locations could be off by as much as 500 yards. It's why the school recommends students use the emergency phones dotted around the campus instead of the app.

"Our response time to a landline through an office phone or emergency phone is three minutes," said Wade MacAdam, with the university's police force. "When we try to go to one of these GPS platforms, it took 12 minutes."

Nancy Schwartzman, who heads up the team making Circle of 6, says her app is still helpful in some situations.

"It's certainly not a substitute for 911. It's more of 'I want the people I trust and choose to help me out of a jam right now,'" she said.

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Apps like Circle of 6 can get you out of a bind on a bad date.

Tech 4 Good / Circle of 6

Apps on a date

Like Circle of 6, bSafe makes it easy to connect with friends and family while you're out on a date. Unlike Circle of 6, it also lets them see your phone's location at any time.

Other functions include a timer that will contact your friends if you haven't checked in, letting them know you might be in danger. The alarm has a PIN code so that your potential attacker can't send the notice for you.

Finally, if you feel in danger, you can push an alert button that will notify your contacts and send them your GPS location as well as a video you've recorded through the app.

Apps like Hollaback let people share their stories of harassment with a description of the attacker and location, while SpotCrime+ can help you avoid neighborhoods with high crime rates.

Curbing an abusive relationship

In the US, 24 percent of women and 14 percent of men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. On average, nearly 10 million men and women are physically abused every year, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports.

Not all abuse is physical, however, and not all victims report assaults.

A few discreet apps attempt to help.

One Love My Plan is aimed at women ages 18 to 24, who are statistically more at risk of abuse. It asks questions about their relationship, then offers a safety plan and places to get help.

"An app for information, particularly for friends and families of those that we know are going through tough times, provide me with the information that I need to support that person," said Ruth Glenn, executive director at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Even so, she warns against apps that promise to bring help during a crisis. In those cases, it's best to call 911 or the National Domestic Violence hotline (1-800-799-7233), as their response times can be much faster.

Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."

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