Digital Witness: Could This App Save Your Life?

by Melanie Mignucci

An Australian woman recently developed a smartphone app that could help record and investigate violent attacks, but how useful is it in preventing them?

Digital Witness aims to capture potential attackers in a Snapchat-like app that would send photos of a potential attacker and a short message along the lines of “help!” to a pre-approved list of emergency contacts. 

Their website says the app “exploits the popularity and technology of smartphones to enhance personal safety and security.” It capitalizes on the idea that an attacker may be deterred from committing an act of violence if they know they’ll be “identified, caught and punished.”

When you open the app, a large, green “help” button appears in the middle of the screen. If you aim your phone at whoever’s following/harassing/intimidating you and press the button, the app will take a photo of the attacker and send it, along with your current location and a short help message, to a list of emergency contacts. These contacts will be presented with the option of calling you, calling the police, or saving the potential attacker’s photo for use in a later investigation.


In order for the app to work, however, the user must be in a position to take the potential perp’s photo – without them knowing.

Now you can call me cynical, but if I were being followed in an empty parking garage, the last thing I would want to do is antagonize whoever’s following me – and there’s no better way to do that than taking a potentially violent person’s picture. If the attacker notices you taking their photo, which is not unlikely, and they escalate their attack, at least – worst-case scenario – their information has already been circulated to friends and family. But this does nothing to prevent an attack like a can of mace or a swift kick in the ‘nads might.

And even if one were to rely on this app to save one’s life, if it loads as slowly as Facebook for iPhone does, I’d rather be on the phone with my mom, casually giving her my exact location.

This app seems like a million dollar idea, but in practice is less useful than taking a self-defense class. Even if you get the app open in time, it’s only really useful for – and seems only to exacerbate – the worst-case scenario, by which time all you’re fighting for is justice, and not your personal safety. 

I’m not saying don’t download the app – maybe if George Zimmerman had had it, history might have gone down a little differently – but bear in mind that it’s engineered to deal well with the aftermath of an attack, not the before. 

Would you use this app? Let BUST know what you think in the comments below.

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