Above: Using a phone safety apps can be one of the best things you can do for yourself with a mobile phone. Photo by Jérôme Choain from Pixabay.

A recent review of AARP’s Bulletin revealed two full-page ads for safety devices that enable a user to alert authorities of any unsafe conditions. One headline tells users to “just press the button to speak to our highly trained agents 24/7.” The second headline touts: “A Help button should go where you go.”

The same issue of the bulletin also contains ads directed at older adults for smartphones that include similar help features. While these devices may be appropriate for some individuals, most of us get along using our regular smartphone and expect to be able to use it in an emergency.

Getting emergency help when you need it is one of the best reasons to carry a cellphone. But in any life-threatening emergency, you should always call 9-1-1. With just about every cellphone, you can make an emergency phone call without having to enter a code to unlock the device.

But in non-emergency cases where you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, there are a number of free apps that you should consider. They can be extremely valuable if you use ride-sharing services or need to know someone is safe using one.

First, some caveats:

No app is 100 percent foolproof. Nor, for that matter, can most apps cover every conceivable situation you or loved one might encounter.

No app is a substitute for professional first responders.

Cellphones work through cellular towers, and the technology can’t always pinpoint the exact location of your cellphone and, presumably, you.

With those points in mind, here are our thoughts on three apps from the online publication Techlicious. Our goal is to provide perspective to help you make a good decision.


bSafe has features that can silently alert friends and family — the app calls them “guardians” — or step up your response to a dangerous situation. One of the alerts reminds me of something that those of us of a certain age will remember if we went to college out of town. On getting back to school, some of us would go to a pay phone (remember them?) and place a person-to-person call — collect, of course — to ourselves.

bSafe takes that a few steps further. You and a family member or friend, who must also have the app, can enter a designated time when you’re supposed to arrive somewhere. At the appointed time, the app sends you a message. If you don’t respond within a specified time, the app sends a notification to the family member or friend, who can take appropriate action.

If you need an “escape call” to help get out of an uncomfortable meeting or appointment, the app can take care of that, too.

For emergency needs, the app can work as a deterrent with its siren-like alarm, designed to make an attacker think twice. You can enable and disable it with one touch. The voice-activated SOS feature launches several operations at once, including sending an alert to your guardians and providing live-streaming audio and video (if you have the phone out). It will also record the audio and video and send a file to your guardian.

The app works on Android and Apple phones, anywhere your phone works. Just make sure you and your guardians have it, too. All features are free, but you will use some data when using maps, and bSafe contacts guardians through phone calls and texts when using the alarm. The costs depend on your cellular plan.


Kitestring is a passive-active app. It works passively in the background to make sure you’re active. If you go inactive, it notifies designated people. A benefit for some people is that it doesn’t need an app. It works through texting (SMS), which is a familiar communication platform for many older adults — even if they prefer email or phone calls.

The website touts the fact that you don’t need a smartphone to use the service; you can even use it with a flip phone. And therein lies a possible pitfall. In our experience, most people who have flip phones are not tech savvy, and texting by using the numeric keypad is cumbersome. If you find Kitestring to be a good solution for your needs, you or your family members will likely want to make sure you have a smartphone and know how to send and receive text messages. Once you navigate that, it will be faster and easier to use.

The “free” part of the app, or service, is limited to three trips, or usages, per month and you can designate only one contact to receive notifications. Upgrading to unlimited trips and contacts will cost $3 per month, which can be valuable for seniors who get out and about often and have several family members and friends who look out for them.

Once you have your trip set up, Kitestring sends you a check-in message at the time you’re scheduled to arrive. If you don’t answer in five minutes, the app notifies your contact(s). You can set up a check-in word or duress code in case someone else has control of your phone.

While you don’t need an app, you do need internet access to use their website to let your contact(s) know where you’re supposed to be and when.

The website’s home page, kitestring.io, is spare with info, but you can find extensive information by clicking on FAQ at the bottom of the page. They say that they tested it on seniors — you have to like that.

Life360 Family Locator

Life360 Family Locator sets up a daily check-in to make sure someone is following their daily routine. This can be ideal for children who want to check on elderly parents or anyone who lives alone. It can also help parents make sure their children have arrived somewhere safely.

If you’re a “sandwich” family caught between concerns for your children and parents, it has a lot of options. As with Kitestring, the free service is limited, but you can step up to other levels of service. At last reports, they were $2.99 per month, or $24.99 per year, and $7.99 per month, or $69.95 per year.

Our complaint is that you can’t find the pricing easily — if at all — on the website, and you probably should go all the way down to the footer on the homepage to see the Product Tour and Life360 Premium links. They offer a 7-day free trial. The app works on the Apple and Android platforms.

‘Free’ value?

You might think “valuable free” apps are an oxymoron if you’ve ever read one. But in the case of these free safety apps, the words go together. They bring up a few basic truths:

  • Safety is paramount.
  • Free apps appeal to our frugal side and give us a chance to try them without the necessity to opt out.
  • You get more features and capabilities when you pay for apps. Value is in the eye of the beholder.

Your DDD Resource

We’re available to help you sort through the features and benefits of these apps and answer any questions you might have about setting them up and using them. We’re also available to help you with any and all questions or problems you have with your computers, cellphones, tablets and networks. Call Gene Rubel, the Digital Device Doctor, at 404-307-8857 or email us to set up an appointment.

Gene Rubel

Gene Rubel is a tech consultant and writer based in Sandy Springs.