Witness: Livestreaming for Emergencies
Witness broadcasts your location, audio and video to your friends and loved ones with one touch
A couple of months ago, at the TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2015 Hackathon, I set forth on the 24-hour journey of turning a long time thought into a functional prototype. I’ve always been obsessed with problems that are imperfectly solved for the existing technology. CrowdRadar, Ask ne1, and now, Witness, were all born out of this obsession.
As a freshman in college, living far from my family for the first time, I started wondering what I would do if someone had tried to harm me while I was walking back from the library at 3am. When my girlfriend at the time would walk back to her house late at night, through a street where multiple robberies had been reported, I would make her stay on the phone with me until she was safely in her house. But adjusting our lives and sacrificing our independence is not always an option.
Since then, time and time again, I have seen the same core problem manifest itself in different forms. From those falling victims to police brutality, to night shift workers, to my friend who went missing late at night after my 22nd birthday party and was found by the police at a different university, with his wallet gone and no recollection of what had happened.
This 911 call was the final straw and I knew I had to do something about it. How could it be that even though we all carry these extremely powerful devices around, when it comes to the most critical moments of our lives, the existing solutions are so broken? Why are we forced to make huge tradeoffs at moments devoid of clarity? Why should we have to choose between gathering evidence, contacting friends and family or reaching out to first responders?
When every second is critical, every extra key press counts. Apps designed for normal use break down as shaky hands on a capacitative screen make it impossibly hard to target UI elements. Anything requiring more than a few seconds of attention cannot be used until after the incident. Any evidence kept on the phone runs the risk of being destroyed. Every extra ring on the other end of the line feels like a lifetime.
I built Witness to answer a simple question: if I find myself in an emergency and all I have is my phone, what is the best my phone can do to protect me?
It takes one touch to activate Witness. Witness then simultaneously calls, texts and/or emails all emergency contacts, providing live audio, video and location tracking. Emergency contacts receive a shortlink with video that can be played in any web browser. When cellular data is slow or there is no reception, Witness stores everything on the device, until cellular data is back up or storage/battery runs out. Data is wiped from the phone as soon as it’s securely moved to the Witness servers. After the incident is over, all data can be reviewed and replayed.
Today I am following through with my promise and releasing Witness for iOS.
Sadly, some compromises had to be made to the original version from Disrupt in order to pass Apple approval, the most important being that it no longer displays a discreet black screen while recording. Now that it’s made it to the App Store, I will keep pushing the boundaries of what Apple is willing to accept.
I want everyone to be able to afford Witness. So it is completely free. If it makes an impact on one person’s life, Witness will have served its purpose.
A huge thank you goes out to all of you from 30+ countries around the world who took the time to reach out and test earlier versions. There is definitely a lot of room for improvement and Witness will only get better with time. I am looking forward to hearing your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Hacker News.