Jillian Kowalchuk | Safe & the City | IP Expo

Avatar Ben Fower | 13/11/2018

Jillian Kowalchuk joined us at IP Expo to talk about her new app, Safe & the City and explains how this new app can help keep people safe from crime. Hosted by Allan Behrens and Matt Lovell

Allan: Anyway, Jillian tell us about your business. What is your business, your company?

Jillian: So, I run a company called Safe & the City. Actually, I was on this show Tech Talks back in April. So Safe & the city is a navigation app very similar to Waze but instead of looking at traffic congestion or dead ends we’re looking at something universal to all of us, personal safety, especially when the most risk is when we’re out walking and this idea really came to me when I moved to London from Vancouver much bigger city much more complex, but less grid-based and I found that using navigation apps and trusting them often put me in situations like parks or alleyways where it really didn’t feel safe or actually was targeted for certain things. So after one particular experience being guided down an alleyway and two men from a kitchen came out and we’re getting quite aggressive with me I was able to get out of the situation but they definitely targeted me because I was a woman maybe I looked lost I wasn’t really supposed to be there and I left the situation thinking there’s probably someone else who’s been in that particular especially since they were staff they were in that situation. So, how could I leave a heads up something on a navigation app this isn’t supposed to frighten people, but it could actually give them information and also be fed back to the businesses to actually see what we could do, as we’re moving around the city how we can use that information to actually change the street and the environments for people’s safety. So that’s the genesis of it but yeah, we’ve moved quite a lot further since we last talked we’re now expanding the team, we are working with the Metropolitan Police so we’re feeding information on crime so, the likeliness of crime, I think they’ve tried lots of strategies, you know, putting posters up around Angel station for the moped thefts for example, but it’s really, you know, a technology kind of based system that we need to start looking at how we bridge that information try to promote, you know, those behaviour changes that people can do but also the unknown information to the police or maybe businesses to fill in those gaps as well.

Allan: Are you actually also doing some sort of elements of, dare I say machine learning? To try and form some predicted mechanisms to advise on what might be the problem.

Jillian: Yes, we’re still early in our journey of that. We launched our product in March and we’re now we’re starting to get you know, a decent amount of data in because users can report either on eight categories of sexual harassment or they actually can now rate the walk so based on the lighting, based on how safe it felt or, if they felt other people could help them in a situation. So those data points are accumulating but you know, I’m hesitant to throw out the buzzwords without it being kind of at the right place. That is our ambition and being able to use those hundreds of millions of data points of to use machine learning and AI to look at how we personalise routes myself as a foreigner moving in or newcomer to London, a young woman might have a very different risk appetite outlook by myself alone versus maybe a local Londoner man who’s you know knows ins and outs of yeah the areas.

Allan: How do you enter the data and it’s fascinating but if you were to advise people on it if they want to use your technology, how do they go about doing it?

Jillian: As in integrating into our platform?

Allan: Integrating or an end user So, a person who is feeling insecure has some experience to share how do they get access to you to what you provide?

Jillian: So, it’s a free app available throughout London. We’re doing a city by city rollout, but essentially it works very similar to Google Maps or Citymapper you plot your destination, we feed the information like Waze it gives you a little bit of an indication where there’s more likelihood of crime and then we give people a notification and a vibration if they are approaching that intersection. Then they can end the walk and if something happened along the way they can report on it and geo mark it into a certain area and then rate the walk, that particular route is now monitored and logged in our back-end again logging that information to see over time. Is it improving how to do you know delineate from that particular area? Was there more kind of crowd Source information that was popping up and how do we use that information to refresh not scare people but actually empower them with the information and be safe.

Matt: And it’s clearly a very serious issue in terms of knife crime in the capital and other areas as well. Is there a view of how the applications may be able to assist in tracking information as well?

Jillian: So, we really want to separate ourselves. We’re working with the police, but we want them to really look at those serious crimes and terrorist threats but we don’t want to become a crime application. We actually want to capture a lot of the antisocial behaviours and sexual crimes that happen. Those are massively underreported, you know, at least with a knife crime there’s is often a victim. There’re often emergency services involved. It’s a well-structured system that may have lots of areas of improvement. But we want to be feeding into that intelligence picture rather than focusing particularly on that problem.

Allan: Who are the major consumers of the data that you generate?

Jillian: So right now we’re building out businesses so that they become licensed safe sites, and we’re working with large organisation business parks, business improvement districts that are looking at regentrifying the area to start to be able to feed that information in a way that actually is digestible and has some tangible suggestions on what they could do whether that be, add more CCTV or get more security involved and trained up in a capacity that isn’t just crimes that they’re reporting and being able to intervene it’s also those other antisocial behaviours. Then we’re announcing, or we will be announcing a big partnership with one of the largest I guess, mapping organisation. So, we’re looking at how we build out our API and integration software’s so not only they get to offer those value-added services to their user base to safely improve their user experience or their stay in temporary accommodation. But also, how we can use that information and feed it back to various levels to actually make more rapid changes.

Allan: Which city is the app operational in at the moment apart from London?

Jillian: London is our starting point so, we really want to nail London before we expand and improve out that data picture so that we actually can use that as you know, means to enter into other complicated cities and areas. New York City, for example where Mumbai might have a very different need we also need the user base to be feeding that information otherwise, it’s a chicken or egg problem. So there’s a big push on marketing and we’re very, well not lucky, but we’re very timely and you know, a lot of the conversations around Me Too, but this becomes more of a science into how do we take, you know, a crowdsource piece of information into geolocational context and be able to track that data change that and use that to help improve people’s safety but also the city

Matt: It’s very early days yet six months in. How are you finding the collection of information let’s say where you could benefit from better street lighting or lighting in darker areas or CCTV or general suggestions of improving safety? Is that something that goes to the council? Are they responsive?

Jillian: Yeah, we haven’t established all of them. We’re working more within the mayor’s kind of networks because there’s 32 33. There’s a lot and different priorities, but I think one thing that’s clear is that you know measurement of this information is very disjointed and there’s a lot of people not speaking to one another and when it’s in terms of a citywide safety program, it’s really something that, we believe it could be kind of that interlock to be able to communicate that.

Allan: I suppose there’s a lot of Legacy in the way that people have measured these things in the past how open and constructive are they moving to what is potentially a new paradigm of digital measurement?

Jillian: Yeah. That’s a good question. I think we’ve been very much kind of, at the forefront of trying to look at how we prevent situations versus react in them. And at least within the safety space it is predominantly a market of reaction, you know, we’re talking about cybersecurity and there’s so many layers within that. My background is in public health and epidemiology. So, it’s almost like how do we apply, you know, containing a disease or being at the forefront to catch it in very complicated terrains? To be able to use data and predictive models to actually combat that, so I think there’s a lot of reception even from kind of more of the older kind of brands and being able to start looking at, you know information really coming from people feeling that they can actually share this information. I think everyone’s a little bit tightened up with GDPR like, how are you going to use this information? But actually, how you can use data for good. Data for change and being able to even make your everyday behaviours like your walk to the tube station something that counts as something that’s important and changing the areas.

Matt: It is fascinating because I heard Sadiq Khan and a team talking about how actually the approach of tackling some of the issues in the capital at this moment in time was perhaps more of treating a social disease rather than treating the threat of physical violence. Longer term programs that start in communities, groups and awareness of that and bringing together trying to over a period of time treat the cause.

Jillian: Exactly and I mean, I think that’s what’s really different even though we are a tech company and you know, aiming to be an AI data plan. We’re also engaging right away like getting the stakeholders involved. Like how do we engage businesses? So, if people are feeling safe in one particular area we’re not blanketing this as a no-go zone, we’re actually getting businesses and communities understanding the information coming through and being able to react in an appropriate way. So actually, really change the agenda about how we treat one another, what gets captured and how we can actually keep one another safe.

Allan: What about the app itself and it take up with the consumers to the people who actually enter the data. I mean is that going as planned? Is it word of mouth? How is that actually catching on?

Jillian: Yeah, it’s, it’s been going well. We haven’t done any formal marketing. So, this is something I’ve built from the base up so there’s a big learning curve as well. But no, most of it’s been a word of mouth. We really haven’t done too much and we’re looking at moving into universities. We have some conversations in place, especially around campus security that we know that a lot of different things take place. So yeah, I think it’s almost preparing ourselves for when we do want to go all the way. I think, yeah there’s been a lot of press attention and invitations into a lot of different places. So it’s just staying focused, you know, making sure that what we are collecting and the data we are collecting it’s one of those things because you know, what is an experience that someone reports especially of a sensitive nature to us, you know, do you need 10,000 or you know, 5000 is just enough because they tell a story in of itself. And that information isn’t being collected and a formal basis. So, you know being able to put those in the right hands.

Matt: Therein lies quite a key group of the influx of new people potentially into the capital from many geographies and therefore their familiarity with routes to walk or the city might not be as good as somebody that obviously knows the capital well. So, having such a service available to them as being really powerful and getting them to use the service.

Jillian: Exactly, and that’s why we wanted to keep it free. We wanted it to be in London where it is, very transient and a lot of different countries from around the world that have exposure to us and being able to see actually this could be a tool to empower and prevent and looking at other areas that might need a lot more help. I gave an example of South Africa that you know, we can actually encourage people to go into those places because they’ve been rated so highly and what effect that could do on tourism development.

Allan: I suppose in the counter side, you know if you provide that information the bad people might see it as well and might target the other areas.

Jillian: Well and that’s why we’re trying to personalize it. So not one group is being hoarded into one place and the businesses on the ground are starting to create almost a neighbourhood watch for this type of thing because they’re working with the police. They also get that information. So, any kind of suspicious behavior can be picked up by them.

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