Helping people stay safe
Survey numbers are helpful for seeing general awareness and usage, but they don't tell us exactly how or why people are using the safety features on their phone. We talked to two women who told us about their experiences with some of these features.
Carol* started using more of her phone's built-in safety features after a friend had a particularly bad experience, which was made worse by not using one of the simplest ones of all:
"She got spiked, passed out, and was taken to hospital. She didn't have her purse or ID because she'd managed to lose them on the way, so it was hard for the hospital to find out who she was, which meant that it took ages for them to get in touch with her family."
It was the hospital staff that told her about how her phone could help. "They told her to save a contact under ICE (in case of emergency), which most phones recognise as an emergency contact and allow people to view without unlocking the phone," says Carol. "She told everyone about it, and now one of the first things I do when I get a new phone is to set this up - just in case!"
Lindsay* uses a number of safety features on her phone, including a Medical ID app. "You can get to it from the lock screen, and it has details about my medical history, blood type and allergies, as well as an emergency contact.
"I also have a folder on my phone that uses a separate pin to unlock great for those pics you dont want your family to see. Also, it takes a front-facing picture whenever a code is entered wrong, along with a time stamp.
However, the most helpful feature has been one she hasn't actually had to use herself:
"My husband once used Friend Finder to find me on a night out when I needed a lift and was too drunk to explain where I was." Other than that, fortunately, there have been no emergencies that have required a smartphone SOS.
We also asked Lindsay what safety features she thinks would be useful on a smartphone. "I wish you could ask Siri to call the police with a secret command," she says. "I think this would be great for domestic violence victims."
It's obviously a great idea and as mentioned above, there are plenty of apps that offer a feature similar to this. But the fact that people aren't always aware of them implies that many who could benefit from such an app don't even know they exist.
Helping parents keep their kids safe
Giving kids their first phone is a big part of giving them their first taste of independence, as well as the added security of letting them stay in touch while they're at school or out exploring. We spoke to three parents about how phones have changed the way they think about their kids' safety both in the real world and while they're using the internet.
Martin* has one son, aged nine. He's been receiving dad's hand-me-downs since he was seven, as a number of his other friends had phones too. As he works in tech himself, Martin was wary of what the device could do in younger hands, so spoke at length with his son about the dangers of online communications, and added a few safeguards to the device:
"The SIM card has been removed, a large number of apps have been hidden away. He has a vanilla Google account attached with no payment options so he cant use micro transactions.
While many other parents give their kids phones so they can call home in an emergency, Martin doesn't think it's quite necessary yet:
"He's only nine, he doesn't need to send texts or make calls, and he has instant messaging over WiFi if he wants to chat.
"We don't let him get into situations where he would need to use a phone in an emergency he's always close by or with a trusted adult at this stage. We discussed it recently, and expect him to need a fully functioning phone around 12."
Joanne* has two boys aged 12 and 14. When each one turned 11, they started high school, gained a bit more independence and most importantly noticed all of their friends already had phones.
"They both hounded me for a phone because a lot of their friends had them before high school age," she says. Each now has a hand-me-down left redundant after Mum's upgrade, with a cheap contract on Three for about £7 a month.
The phones have no parental controls, and Joanne didn't spend much time warning them about the dangers of going online until she had to have a conversation with her youngest about some of the content she found in his Whatsapp messages:
"It was just some silly rude stuff that 12 year old boys will take part in. I've had many a talk since with both of them about sending photos and how it's impossible to retract things that you post once they are out there.
"They know that the deal is, they get a phone, but either me or their dad can pick that phone up when we want and look through it."
At the end of the day, though, the kids' phones are a good thing for Joanne despite some worries:
"I really dont like them to be out in public on their phones as I always worry they might get robbed! But all parents get kids a phone in case there's an emergency, and as far as I know we havent had one yet.
"It has been useful though If I'm late to pick them up it does give me peace of mind that I can call and tell them Im running late and not have to worry."
Dan* has one son, aged 11, who was given a cheap phone for the first time at age 8, when he went away for a school trip.
"At that stage it wasn't his idea, he was obviously well aware of phones but at that point the only things that attracted to him were games and the internet, so he was pretty happy with his iPod touch.
"After he moved off his burner, I gave him my old iPhone. To begin with I used Apple's parental controls, but when I jumped ship from an Apple phone myself that became unworkable and it's not something that we use any more."
Dan's son isn't allowed to use Facebook and Snapchat until he's old enough to satisfy the app's own policies, and he's been educated on the dangers of going online both by dad and at school.
"For me, the stand out issue is cyber bullying," says Dan. "I see a lot of this, not aimed at my son but comments on YouTube in particular."
But just like for many parents, the risks are worth it for the security a phone provides, with a phone call regularly helping out in the tricky situations that can arise every day:
"The first time was when I dropped him off at a regular out of school club that he attends. It was actually cancelled and the information hadn't gotten to me.
"I dropped him off and received a call shortly afterwards telling me that no-one was there and everyone had left. Maybe not a huge emergency, but a difficult situation avoided."
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
Read "Do smartphones make the world a safer place?"