New App is a Digital Witness Against Stalkers, Assaulters

Do you feel unsafe walking alone? Then you may want to check out iWitness, a new app that, when activated, automatically takes photo and video and uploads those images to the cloud, as well as transmits your GPS location to your trusted contacts. Available for iOS and Android, iWitness costs $3 per month or $30 per year.

The idea is, if someone attacks or stalks you, iWitness will gather evidence with just a few quick taps. And if the assailant grabs your phone, he or she will be unable to delete the incriminating evidence, as iWitness posts it right to your personal cloud storage.

MORE: How to Protect Yourself from Digital Stalkers

Once installed on your phone, iWitness has three stages of emergency response: first, tap the "Arm iWitness" button to activate the app. Then, tap the "Rec" button to start the recording your surroundings. As long as you have a Wi-Fi or data connection, iWitness will then start taking audio and video recordings, and upload them to the cloud.

When activated, or "armed," iWitness also turns on the device's front-facing camera flash, turning it into a flashlight (this can be disabled in the settings). Once "Rec" is tapped, iWitness will continue to record for five minutes, though you can toggle this timeframe in settings.

Keeping your phone's GPS, flash and video recorder on at the same time could put a serious drain on the battery, so be aware of how much power you have left when using iWitness.

In the armed state, if you drop your phone, the phone is knocked out of your hand, or the phone's accelerometer detects any other serious bumps or jostles, iWitness will now take the third step: automatically attempting to call 911. You can stop this by pressing the Cancel button. When iWitness is in the armed state, there's also a "Call 911" button on the screen.

You can also designate emergency contacts in iWitness. That way, when you call 911, your emergency contacts will also receive emails and texts with your current GPS coordinates. 

Currently, there appears to be no way to ping emergency contacts without also calling the police. We'd like to see an option where emergency contacts are pinged at an earlier stage — either when the user first arms iWitness or when the user starts to record.

An important caveat: domestic violence victims who still live with their attackers may want to avoid iWitness, at least for now. That's because, as domestic violence support groups often warn, if the assaulter finds evidence that the victim is trying to fight back, that may put the victim in even more danger, or even trigger an attack.

Dave Remer, iWitness' founder, says that the creators are looking into the possibility of a feature that would hide iWitness on the user's phone, thus making it slightly safer for people who have close contact with their abusers. Remer also talked about adapting iWitness into some kind of wearable device, so users wouldn't have to hold up their phones to take recordings.

Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can follow Jill on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.