Tech Mahindra’s free rape alarm app

After the fatal assualt and gang-rape of a 23 year-old woman in Delhi last month, Tech Mahindra – a technology and consulting company in the Mahindra Group – has made free to the Indian public an application designed to “help make our streets safer for women”.

FightBack, a smartphone app, tracks each user’s location. If she comes under threat, a user can press a panic button on the phone which sends an alert within a couple of seconds, broadcasting her location. When signing up for the app, users give the mobile phone number and email address of five contacts they would like to receive these alerts. Configure the app with your Facebook account and the alert appears on your timeline. And the FightBack website includes a map of live alerts for public viewing – the time and place at which the alert was raised is given but the victim remains anonymous (there were 10 live alerts across India when beyondbrics checked before publication).

This service was initially launched to the public in December 2011 at a cost Rs100 ($1.82) for a year’s subscription, while Tech Mahindra employees had free access so that women working late would feel less threatened on their way home. After the incident in Delhi on December 16, the company decided to make the application free all over India and has been widely endorsed in social media.

Tech Mahindra hasn’t disclosed its cost, though the service isn’t cheap to run. The outlay includes the cost of sending text messages and emails, a 24 hour operations team, a tech team working on the app, and data sector costs.

Sandeep Sidhu, general manager for product innovation at CanvasM, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Tech Mahindra that developed the product, told beyondbrics: “Being a tech company, this is what they can contribute to society. It’s taken as a CSR [corporate social responsibility] initiative but tech alone can’t solve this kind of problem. You need to have support from everyone, including the police, government and telecom operators.”

The company has been in discussions to involve Delhi Police. If an alliance materialises, consenting users will send an alert to the police when they press the panic button. Using location information, the nearest police station or patrol vehicle could be identified and alerted.

There is also scope for development of devices that carry the app. Smartphones make up less than 20 per cent of India’s mobile phone market and so far FightBack is only available on these due to the constraints of GPS mapping.

India’s private sector has long been filling in the gaps where the government fails to take on public services. Private generators are switched on by the wealthy when the national electricity system falters and the middle classes are increasingly opting to live in gated compounds where security and cleaning are communally funded. So top marks to Tech Mahindra, a private listed company, for its initiative. Not such high marks to the government for leaving a gap so badly in need of filling.

Related reading:
Five Indian gang rape suspects charged, FT
Indian democracy fails its women, FT editorial