A bad idea, bad execution, or just an unlucky fellow?
This is a true story of something I witnessed a couple of years ago during my early days in tech...
This is a true story of something I witnessed a couple of years ago during my early days in tech. Was it a bad idea? A bad execution? or just an unlucky day? I’d let you be the judge of that.
This story comes from a time before I made the career switch from professional software engineering to core product development and is probably one of the experiences that opened my eyes to the importance of building great products. At this time, I worked at a relatively new Lagos based start-up that built bespoke software solutions for businesses and also had a bouquet of its own products. One such product was an ICE (In case of emergency) app that helped users notify and request for help from 3 pre-selected emergency contacts via SMS & email at the push of a button during an emergency. The process flow was as follows:
- User opens the app.
- User clicks the emergency button.
- The app gets the user’s location, wraps it in an SMS/email and automatically sends it to 3 pre-selected phone numbers and email addresses.
- The app dims the device’s backlight and puts the user’s phone on silent mode (so the user doesn’t get into problems if an attacker discovers they sent out an emergency alert.)
- The final text received by the emergency contact looked something like this:
“I need help ASAP Please alert the police. I am around [insert location of the user]”.
The app looked similar to this:
After the app was launched, there was a need to raise awareness about the product. In a bid to do this, all staff shared the app with friends & family, the HR team informed potential staff about the app and encouraged them to download it, and so on.
Some days after the app launch, I was in an important meeting when we heard people argue loudly in the street. We ignored it for some time but put the meeting on hold when the noise became unbearable.
It turned out that a job seeker who was invited for an interview had downloaded the app, pushed the panic button absentmindedly and an SOS message had been sent to his parents and sister who he selected as his emergency contacts during registration. His family tried desperately to reach him but because the app had dimmed his phone’s back-light and put it on silent mode, he couldn’t see or hear the phone ring during the numerous calls.
After failed attempts to reach his son, the job applicant’s ‘well connected’ father called the commissioner of police who instructed the DPO (Sheriff basically) of the region to come to the location stated in the distress message received by the boy’s father. Within a short time, the residential estate where my office was located was occupied by 5 heavily armed policemen including the DPO himself.
The thing is, Google’s location service is not always accurate especially in high-density areas, and in this situation it picked the address of the house right before my office building. On getting there, the Police officers were attended to by a light-skinned young man (let’s call him John) with short braids (Note: a lot of Nigerians are skeptical about men with hairstyles that they believe are unconventional).
After asking where the ‘kidnapped’ son was and not getting a concrete reply, the Police officers decided to ‘refresh’ his memory with a few slaps which later turned into a full-scale beating when they thought “John” was proving difficult. It took the intervention of residents and passers-by for the beating to stop. After a lot of back and forth, the ‘kidnapped’ son came out of our office building along with some of our staff and “John” was released although he sustained some bruises.
Safe to say that was the end of the job interviews for that day…
So what was wrong? How could this have been avoided?
Before I go further, I’ll like to state that I strongly condemn the fact that the police did not carry out a proper check before taking the actions that they did against the unarmed young man and I personally believe that the job applicant who sent out the emergency alert should take a major part of the blame.
However, I believe there are some ways this could have been avoided during the product design process. Here are some of my thoughts:
- The emergency text: The content of the emergency SMS/Email sent is a bit too direct in its call to action. It also doesn’t tell the recipient why they received the text or how it was initiated. It would also have been helpful to inform the recipient that the text was automated and not sent directly by the user. What do you think about this?
- The user interface: There was a case about the size & colour of the emergency button. Some say it looked a bit too attractive and might unintentionally call the attention of absentminded users. But then again red is a popular colour for representing emergencies and danger. What are you thoughts on this?
3. The process flow: I think all users should have been made to provide a 2nd level authorization before emergency alerts were sent out. This can be an emergency PIN or simply a pop-up informing them that they’re about to send out an emergency alert. But then again, how effective will this be in real emergency situations like robberies, fires etc where users might not have the confidence or luxury of providing a second level authorization. What do you think?
4. Silent mode & Dimmed back-light: There was an argument that the devices should not placed on silent and the back-light should not be dimmed. However, what happens in the situation of a robbery/any violent attack when the assailant realizes the user sent out an SOS alert? What do you think?
I’m curious to hear what others think about this product and their thoughts on how situations like this can be avoided for similar products. Please share your opinion in the comments section.
About the Writer: Adetolani Eko is Product manager and user centred designenthusiast from Lagos, Nigeria. Connect with him here: https://linktr.ee/ekolive