BMC Public Health (Jun 2022)

The use of mobile phone applications to enhance personal safety from interpersonal violence – an overview of available smartphone applications in the United Kingdom

  • Kat Ford,
  • Mark A. Bellis,
  • Natasha Judd,
  • Nel Griffith,
  • Karen Hughes

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 22, no. 1
pp. 1 – 12


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Abstract Background Interpersonal violence has devastating implications for individuals, families, and communities across the globe, placing a significant burden on health, justice, and social welfare systems. Smartphone technology may provide a platform for violence prevention interventions. However, evidence on the availability and user experience of smartphone applications aimed to prevent violence is underexplored. Methods Systematic searches of available smartphone applications marketed for personal safety and violence prevention on the Apple Store (IOS) and Google Play (Android) in the United Kingdom were run in May 2021. Relevant applications were downloaded, with data on user reviews and ratings extracted. Included applications were categorised according to their features and functions. Online user reviews were rated according to their sentiment (positive, negative, neutral) and thematically analysed. Results Of 503 applications, 86 apps met review criteria. Only 52 (61%) apps offered full functionality free of charge. Over half (52%) of apps were targeted towards the general population, with 16% targeting women and 13% targeting families. App functionality varied with 22% providing an alarm, 71% sending alerts to pre-designated contacts, 34% providing evidence capture and 26% offering educational information. Overall, 71% of applications had a user rating of four or above. For 61 apps a total of 3,820 user reviews were extracted. Over half (52.4%) of reviews were rated as having a positive sentiment, with 8.8% neutral and 38.8% negative. Key themes across user reviews included positive consequences of app use, technical and usage issues including app reliability, dissatisfaction with the financial cost of some app features and personal data and ethical issues. Conclusions Reviews suggest that users find apps for personal safety and violence prevention useful. However, individuals also report them being unreliable, not working as described and having features that others may exploit. Findings have implications for the development of policy on apps to improve personal safety, especially given recent national policy (e.g. UK) discussions about their utility. Without the regulation or accreditation of such technology for quality assurance and reliability, emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring user safety; otherwise vulnerable individuals may continue to place reliance on untested technology in potentially dangerous circumstances.