Neil Mansilla | Director, Developer Platform and Partnerships
December 09, 2011

Hacking Apps Against Abuse


I’ve heard that developers build software for either money or fame. But sometimes, there’s a nobler cause. Earlier this year, the US Department of Health and Human Services and Vice President Biden announced a nationwide challenge to develop apps that can help prevent dating violence and sexual assault for young adults and college students. The prize amount at stake? Zero. Did that keep developers from participating? Absolutely not. (Bay Area Automated Mapping Association) held the Apps Against Abuse SF event at Microsoft’s downtown San Francisco office. Leah, the organizer, brought developers, technology platforms and health professionals together for a two day event focused on networking, idea sharing and education about the cause and challenge. Presentations were given by teams from Microsoft Bing, Mashery and Kaiser Permanente.
The group of developers opened with app ideas surrounding the “date” – reporting where the user is located. Erik Lindeman and Ryan Ekhert from Bing provided a product and API overview that immediately sparked ideas from the crowd about how this geo-data could be usefully incorporated. On the Mashery side, I talked about the Neustar IP Intelligence API (formerly known as Quova) that can resolve IP addresses into geo-data.
App ideas also began to emerge around detecting potential problems before the date.  We discussed how to leverage social media and online profiles to analyze individuals as dating candidates. For example, the group proposed looking for keywords or themes in Twitter streams, examining who an individual is following and what types of comments he makes on Facebook content and news articles. I introduced the Klout API, which is a powerful social influence measurement platform based on Twitter data, demonstrating how the data could help summarize social activity by topic and influence, possibly indicating unfavorable traits.
J’aime Ohm, the winner of the TechCrunch Disrupt 2010 hackathon in San Francisco, was one of the developers that attended Apps Against Abuse SF. Her app, Wise Dame, notifies friends and family if the user does not check-in with the app, sending GPS location, battery level and the list of “people I am out with." J’aime said, “It’s about letting someone know where you are, period. So you can go out confidently.”
The company was also in attendance. Their app is an “automated, mobile phone-based personal safety system.” The system checks in on you with text messages, to which you must respond with a certain “home” word that signals "all is well.” If you do not respond with a home word, contacts friends that you’ve selected with information about who you’re with and where you were going.
Krista Kotz is the program director for Kaiser Permanente’s Family Violence Prevention Program.  She provided some incredibly useful and sobering information about domestic and intimate partner violence. You can read more about their work here.
Just last month, the winners of the Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge were announced, including on the White House blog. The winning apps were Circle of 6 and On Watch, chosen from over 30 app submissions. They were both native iPhone apps. Congratulations to everyone who participated and for those who took the time to learn about and discuss these serious issues.