The Amnesty Panic Button App

Article by Saakshi Project • Image Credit

One of the biggest fears that we all experience at some point in our lives is: “What if something happens to me when I am alone and nobody knows about it?” 

The Amnesty Panic Alarm App

There are several ‘panic button’ apps available for smart phones which can be configured to alert head office, the police etc. in the event of an accident or an attack.  Usually they are displayed in an obvious manner for ease of use.  The Panic Button app by Amnesty International  has a slightly different purpose.  It is specifically designed for people like human rights activists who are at risk, not so much of attack, but of kidnap, detention, or forced ‘disappearance’.  It is not designed to call immediate help but to alert others that something has happened to them and to enable them to find out where they are.

Most panic button apps are designed to stand out to facilitate ease of use, but this one is disguised to look like a calculator app, and it is called “calculate”.  If it is opened, it will display a basic calculator.  The advertising blurb doesn’t say if it will do calculations, but the implication is that it will.  In order to get past the calculator into the app itself, you need to hold down one of the numbers for at least five seconds to reveal a login screen, and then enter a password.

There are various ways in which it could be used, but the basic concept is very simple.  An activist, who may be at risk of arrest or kidnap, establishes an emergency action plan with their associates and/or support organisation.  They then program the app to send a coded SMS message with location data to up to three recipients when triggered.  It is set off by the rapid pressing of the “on” button.  Once activated, it will continue to transmit the coded message and current location data every five minutes until it is cancelled, thus alerting their associates and enabling them to track their movements.  It will transmit even when the phone is sleeping, as long as the battery holds out. Switching the phone off will stop it transmitting, but it will not cancel the app; as soon as the phone is switched on again, it will resume transmitting the preset message and its location

Known Bugs

The app is available in four languages and has recently been made available as a free download in the Google Play Store.  As it is still in its pre-release Beta testing stage, it has a number of bugs in it, but users are invited to download it and report any problems they find. The most important of the known issues are as follows:

1. Accidentally triggering an alert: 

It is very sensitive.  Sometimes, answering a call in a hurry may trigger the alert.  Also, where devices have covers that automatically turn the phone off and on, opening the cover can sometimes trigger the alert.  It seems it is mostly Samsung Galaxy models, Google Nexus 5 and HTC Eva that are affected.  The developers say they are looking into the problem and which devices it occurs on.

2. Unable to trigger an alert:

Apparently, there is an issue that concerns users with Android 2.3 phones where, in some cases, the alert cannot be activated.  The developers say they are looking into this issue as well.

3. Stopping the Alert: 

A deliberate feature of the app is that stopping the alert is not straight forward—for obvious reasons. 

This can be a problem for some people, especially if they have triggered it accidentally, or voluntarily to test it. In these circumstances, it is important that the user knows how to turn it off, since the app, once activated, will continue to send messages every 5 minutes until it is stopped, incurring SMS charges and running the battery down.

How to Stop an Alert

In view of the potential for accidentally triggering an alert, and the fact that stopping it is a little complicated, it is important that users are properly versed in how to stop one.  The installation wizard doesn’t explain the procedure very well, but it is quite simple once you have got the hang of it:

1) Open the application (The icon looks like a calculator and is normally called “Calculate"), and a calculator screen will appear.

2) Press and hold any number on the Calculator for at least 5 seconds until a screen appears that asks for your PIN.

3) Enter your PIN, i.e., the one you chose during setup.

4) Click on the "Stop the Alert” button.

If you have accidentally triggered an alert and are in a bit of a panic, you might forget how to switch it off, so it is worth practicing it.

You can find more information and help at https://panicbutton.io/  If you want to send feedback, contact details are also provided. It should be noted that this app is only available for Android phones as yet, there is no equivalent for iPhone.

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