College students praise Companion App, experts hesitant

College students praise Companion App, experts hesitant

Parents, would you feel at ease knowing you could virtually track your child as they walked home?     

A new app has a lot of folks buzzing because it's designed to help users walk home safely, even if they're alone.

The Companion App is GPS based and using your phone's contacts, you can send a text, asking a friend or family member to track your walk home.   When you arrive at your destination, your companion is alerted and if at any time you feel uncomfortable, you can alert your virtual friend or call police.

If you get off the designated path, fall or start running, your phone turns into an alarm system if a “are you ok” prompt is not answered in 15 seconds.

College students say it would put them at ease but some officials warn of technology's downside.

Just this week, a Troy University student used pepper spray to defend herself from a would-be attacker, a scary reminder of the dangers young adults face when walking, alone.

"Whenever I go eat or go to practice I have to walk back to my dorm by myself,” said one Montgomery college student.  "I don't know if people are going to come up to me, I don't know a lot of people here," said another student.

"Walking any time of day just by myself I get really nervous because I might get lost," said Huntingdon College student, Alexis Wineman.

Wineman is from Montana, and doesn't have a car. The Huntingdon student says she would use the Companion App. "I think that would make me feel safer even if they're not there with me they at least know where I'm at," she said.

The Executive Director of CrimeStoppers thinks these tracking apps could help decrease crime.

“Every little thing helps, if not for deterrent that people start using that app to know there's a reason that a person may not want to do something to another person because of that defense mechanism,” said Tony Garret, Executive L. E. Director, CrimeStoppers.

While CrimeStoppers is sold on this virtual walk home, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office worries that these apps could provide a false sense of security.

“I don't know how much of it is actually going to deter criminal activity. I think like the main purpose is to make people feel safer, I don't know in reality if it does make them feel safer,” said Deputy District Attorney, Carrie Shaw.

Shaw also warns about the dangers of sharing personal information with a third party, pointing out that a user would be vulnerable if their phone was stolen or the app’s server was hacked.     

“What happens if something did happen to you, they're not there to help you and so sometimes the best way to be safe is to take a taxi home, or drive yourself or get a ride with a friend don’t walk alone even if you think an app would be protecting you,” said Shaw.

While several college students WSFA 12 News spoke with said they would feel safer using the Companion App, Shaw says it’s important to stay vigilant. “
Anything can happen at any time and that person won't be there to actually help you,” she said.

The Companion App is free and it's available for both iPhone and Android users.The app was originally designed for college students but it's creators report that tens of thousands of people around the world are using it. 

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Copyright 2015 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.