By: James Grottola and Ricky Soberano
Companion, a virtual personal safety app, has over half a million users barely over a month after it was launched, reached number 1 in the App Store in two weeks and at a point was growing at 100 users per second.
The idea for Companion came from the common habits of the five founders attending the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. All of them found themselves walking back to their dorms at night alone, having to either call or text people during the walk with hit or miss results.
“I think it’ll actually make people feel less afraid. Maybe less nervous while they’re getting home,” Greg Stimitz, a Stony Brook University undergraduate student, said while on his way back to his dorm around 11:30 p.m.
One of the founders, Lexie Ernst, explained the specifics of the app.
“We have built in triggers using GPS technology, using smartphone sensors that if you go off route, don’t make it to your destination on time, drop your phone, if anything strange happens movement wise, that will alert your selected contacts,” Ernst said.
In terms of development, it is easier than one may think.
“The funny part of the Companion app is that they used Crew to develop it. Crew is mainly utilized by large companies or sponsored by large companies. That is actually how I heard about it and the development time (3 months) is actually pretty common,” said Jeremy Cai, The CPO of OnboardIQ. Crew is a development agency that provides connections to vetted professional who specialize in highly creative technological skills to create apps and programs that creates the product that the initial company wants. “It is easy to develop but not easy to maintain” said Cai.
Despite Companion’s success, the mental thought process of individuals using it and other personal safety apps are cause for concern, according to Marco Ponzo, a graduate Psychology student at Stony Brook University.
“Although [Companion] does aid the student in walking home, the idea of this app being used to prevent any confrontation could be a source of anxiety and creating many “What if” scenarios in a person’s head,” Ponzo said.
That fear and anxiety may not necessarily be a bad thing according to Christopher D. Bader, Professor of Sociology at Chapman University. “We generally find that when it comes to fear, a little bit of fear is good. Fear can lead you to become more aware of your surroundings, make better choices, etc.”
The app has yet to receive a response of an account in which the app itself has caused the prevention of a tragedy per se, Ernst said this is “because no one has yet to send them a specific account.” However, she did note that there was a huge success in notifying the police quickly and discreetly for a number of individuals.
Both Ponzo and Bader agreed that the fear associated with the potential scenarios may cause an unhealthy amount of anxiety or overthinking and could cause individuals to going out in public or stop a person from walking at night completely.
“I think (the app) provides a sense of comfort knowing that it’s there but you might not need it,” Melissa Leo, an undergraduate student of Stony Brook University, also walking home at 11 p.m. said.
Both Leo and Stimitz said that the premise of the app was useful.
“The idea of Companion itself – there’s nothing bad about it,” Cai said.