Apple Safety Check Will Save Lives

Life jackets stored under the ferry seats.
The rapid-inflating escape slides hidden under the door of a plane.
The bear repellent spray sold at every gift shop in Yellowstone.

All items that I hope to never need, but am thankful exist.

This week, at their annual developer’s conference, Apple introduced a new item to this list: Safety Check.

Being in a close relationship with someone in today’s society means that you not only become intertwined physically and emotionally, but digitally as well. As relationships grow, oftentimes couples and later families, find themselves sharing passwords, digital purchases, contacts, and more. The list of devices each of us has grows, and often become communal devices shared by everyone in the family, though signed into by just one. All of this is generally normal behavior in many a home — when everyone feels not only loved, but safe.

But like the designers of the “Unsinkable” Titanic not putting enough lifeboats on the ship, creating products for only the good times can lead to dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences.

These devices that bring us such joy and connection with our loved ones, can turn into a nightmare that you are never really certain is over when a relationship is abusive and you need to escape it. Texts and calls are spied upon by an old tablet that was left behind, location is tracked in an app that was forgotten about, Google searches synced in a browser on the family desktop. The abusers are able to continue the torment from afar — showing up at the friend’s house that was thought to be unknown, confrontations about calls you’ve made to a lawyer, removing access to needed funds via a shared password.

Most of us have never had to think of such horrors, or if we have, have relegated this type of stuff to movies and TV shows — but it is so very real for an increasing number of those around us all.

I witnessed this first hand with a dear friend who needed to escape an unstable and dangerous spouse. Furthermore, I experienced a seemingly unending stream of other targets of abusive partners while volunteering at Operation Safe Escape, an organization whose goal is to help digitally detach people from those who seek to continue to harm them.

In both of these situations, you work with someone who is justifiably distraught and not thinking clearly. They need to not only get safe, but feel safe. They need to know that they didn’t forget a digital unlocked door or open window that their abusive partner can exploit. It’s a minefield, and as someone who is helping that person escape, you too are constantly haunted that you will slip and someone will pay dearly for your mistake.

Safety Check, which will be coming out this fall with iOS 16 on every supported iPhone and iPad, aims to help in these situations we’d all rather not think about. With a few quick selections, located in the Privacy section of your device’s settings, all sharing with others, or specific people, can quickly be revoked. Shared Notes, Calendars, Smart Devices (in the Home App), Photos, Passwords, and Location can instantly be severed. In addition, FaceTime and iMessage can be logged out of in every device except for the device you are initiating Safety Check on to prevent someone from continuing to be able to see what and with whom you communicate. In the future, I believe that Apple’s goal is to work with third-party app developers to have the ability to cleanly cut even more digital connections in other non-Apple apps and services.

Apple has worked with various domestic violence organizations in their development of these options, and from what I can tell looking at the preview version of iOS 16 that I am running, it is very well thought out. In fact, it is so good and important, that I wish that this was not something that is waiting for the fall for release.

I truly hope that none of you will ever need to use Safety Check, but am thankful it exists. Once it is released, I hope that Apple does their best to highlight its existence and how to use it, far and wide. In addition, I hope that Google also develops a similar solution for their devices and services as well.

Stay safe out there.

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