By Setha Rath
“Almost thirty years ago, I received a voice message from one of my contractors. He did not hang up the phone properly for about 60 minutes, so I heard the sound of him beating his wife. I took the record to neighborhood police and we listened together. They advised me to destroy the tape because they have already helped her and she was totally okay. She even said that she just fell down the stairs. I felt powerless and it stuck with me for quite a long time,” said Brain Rohlfing – the Founder of Stop Harassing Me Now App. Watchdog Creative has created an app and website in October, 2015 to help and empower people to retain evidence if they are being harassed or abused and then they take it to a counsellor, therapist, attorney or family to check in and do something about it. The app easily retains a user-identified harasser’s messages, conversations, and call history to preserve them in the company’s secured cloud and ensure their admissibility in court. Even if a user’s phone is stolen, destroyed, failed, crashed or lost, the app can get past all of these problems. The app’s main target audience is women and children. Kids can use this app to report bullies to school principals by gathering all bullied phone calls and text messages as evidence. This mobile tech initiative helps vulnerable women and children stop all form of violence, abuse and harassment through a secure reporting system.
During the interview, Brain shared us one of the success stories of Stop Harassing Me Now App. A woman was threatened by a contractor who had all the money she paid for the construction project. He talked to her on phone and said if she did not pay him more money, he would not come to finish the remaining work. While speaking on a phone, she told the contractor that she used Stop Harassing Me Now App and everything he said, had been recorded and sent to the cloud. He started feeling nervous and said sorry to her and promised to send her money back. This has been a success as women feel more empowered to stop all forms of harassment and inform the counsellor and attorney to do something about it.
On the other hand, this app has a unique story of user testing. Instead of inviting potential users to test the app, Brian invited his colleagues and friends to the party. He intended to use this party as user testing for app in a real time situation. His colleagues and friends were not aware of that. Some people were told to download this app in advance and use it if harassment occurred during the party. Brain observed people using this app and how they reacted to it, in order to gather feedback.
Having carefully thought about the app, its name is associated with sensitive connotation which could provoke the perpetrator to destroy the evidence. Brian told us through the interview that Stop Harassing Me Now will be rebranded to Pyngby real soon. Pnyby is drived from Chinese language which means shield for the harassed and abused. Brian believes that this new version cannot be recognized easily by perpetrators. Regarding this new version, it will allow people to test it on Facebook, specifically gathering Facebook calls and messages as evidence. What is more, users will have the ability to record face to face conversation by pressing the home screen to activate the app. One of its new features is to send messages to family and friends quickly attached with the location that users are in.
Based on the statistics on www.pewinternet.org, nearly two-thirds of Americans are now smartphone owners, and for many these devices are a key entry point to the online world, therefore leveraging mobile technology may contribute to reduce harassment, bullying and abuse. More functions and features will be added to the new version of the app in order to ensure that it is highly secured and safe for users. Users will have the ability to hide the app as well as billing information as necessary. This prevents the abusers knowing that they are using this app. Developing Android app is much easier than iPhone app as it allows more flexibility within the design. During the app development process of the new version, the team is committed to making the app very simple since the current version is not very user friendly, as told by Brian. He added that even though Watchdog Creative is a for-profit company, they still provide app to those who cannot afford the services. “Money is not the big problem for us, because we created this tool to help people who are in need of support,” Brian added. Watchdog Creative has been working with a few non-profit organizations such as Megan Meier Foundation, Lydia’s House and Avenue Counselling Center to ensure that every aspect is included. He hopes that in the future he can engage more independent therapists and lawyers to represent vulnerable women and reaching out to those in need across the border. Up until now, the app has a growing number of users and available to download for both iOS and Android. Check it out and stay tune for its new version, Pnyby!
Setha Rath is a Program Officer at The Asia Foundation. She can be contacted at email@example.com.