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Why Panic Buttons On Mobile Phones Won’t Ensure Women’s Safety

Govt can force the mobile industry to add a panic button on phones, but is there a setup to cater to panic calls?

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The Government of India is keen on women’s safety, and why not! In a country like ours, we need many measures to ensure that.

So someone came out with a plan. India is becoming digital and everyone has a mobile phone. Let’s enable all these mobile phones with a Panic Button and yes, we also need GPS enabled on all of them.

So starting January 1, 2017 all mobile phones sold in India will have an in-built Panic Button and and starting January 1, 2018, they will also have compulsory GPS.

The minister even said this after signing the order.

Technology is solely meant to make human life better and what better than using it for the security of women?
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Communications and Information Technology.
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Now this is great news for many, but at the same time adds to a larger problem. Smartphone makers like Samsung, Micromax, Xiaomi, HTC, Intex, Karbonn won’t have any problems implementing the Panic Button or the GPS.

Almost all the smartphones sold in India have GPS. And yes they run on Google services that can help locate the coordinates of the person or their phone. To top it all women can also download a few safety apps and feel a sense of security.

Now say if these phones had a Panic Button from 2017, who will the Panic Button alert that a person is in distress?

Govt can force the mobile industry to add a panic button on  phones, but is there a setup to cater to panic calls?
Representative Image. (Photo: iStock)

India already has some emergency helpline numbers – (100), fire brigade (101), ambulance (102) and Emergency Disaster Management (108) – and there is a proposal to roll out one number 112 as the equivalent of 911. And we all know how all those work.

Ao building a response system will also need to be in place before Panic Buttons ate implemented. Otherwise it’s just a wasteful exercise.

Now it’s easier for smartphones to implement these and 2017 is a good deadline for them to implement it as well. In fact companies like Karbonn Mobiles are already working on developing a mobile SOS app for women which we would be unrolling for Karbonn customers over the next few months. And it’ll be easier for them to integrate it with a Panic Button.

Other companies will also follow soon.

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But what about Feature Phones?

Not everyone can afford a smartphone. Women in metropolises might be able to, but just move to a tier 2 or 3 city and you’ll find more feature phone users. Feature phones still dominate the mobile phone space in India and guess what! Not many come with in-built GPS.

So, a lot of feature phones that are sold in India right now would be considered illegal to sell starting 1 January 2018.

The feature phones without the facility of panic button by pressing ‘numeric key - 5’ or ‘numeric key - 9’ to invoke emergency call. Smartphones without the facility of emergency call button by pressing the same for a long time to invoke emergency call or the use of existing power on or off button, when short pressed thrice in quick succession.

Gazette of India notification

The feature phone segment is also on a downward spiral in India. This move by the government will boost the smartphone sales in India which is already growing at a steady pace.

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Govt can force the mobile industry to add a panic button on  phones, but is there a setup to cater to panic calls?
Representative Image. (Photo: iStock)

A reasonably decent smartphone in India still costs upwards of Rs 5,000. A cheap one with a 3 month life cycle would be somewhere priced at Rs 2,000. So the hunt for an affordable smartphone in India is still on.

We all know what Freedom 251 turned out to be and now Datawind is trying to make a smartphone for Rs 999.

But this sudden move of add on demands by the government might up the cost of these phones and make manufacturers earn more profit than solve a problem here.

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And this problem can’t be truly solved if we do not have a centralised response system in place that will actually work. So the government can force the mobile industry to add a panic button on their phones, but it will just be a cosmetic feature for now.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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