Imagine a single red button on your phone that could wipe you address book, and send out an alert to others in the event of a crisis. An app like this has yet to be developed, at least to our knowledge, but it seems that the State Department is working on such a button.
According to TechCrunch, the State Department has told them that funded work on a Panic Button app is underway. At this point no release date is available, and there are plans underway to also make an app for low cost Nokia phones, however, there are no plans for an iPhone version. This unique app is an initiative to promote new technologies for Social Activists. The State Department has already put $22 million towards grants to help in “Internet Free Programming”. This money has gone to innovators in the form of grants that can range anywhere from the thousands to tens of thousands. An open and competitive bid process was used to determine who would receive these grants, however at this time, the government is not looking for anymore help building these apps, but you can stay informed of when opportunities do open at www.grants.gov.
The Government sees the the importance behind technology and social media in global politics and is making an effort to further these ventures. If you remember back in 2009, the Government asked Twitter to delay maintenance so real time information could continue in the protests in Iran, also the government has called on Egypt and Libya to stop the internet blackouts. Now the State Department says that they are not just writing checks and throwing the money to whoever. The government is trying to provide the best results using venture capitalism and is supporting a diverse portfolio rather than just handing funding over to the biggest established technologies. They are investing to build a community focused on technology and human rights.
Now of course, as with most brilliant ideas, there are negative side effects. One such is the possibility of apps such as the panic button being used in the wrong way, which is a legitimate concern. However, according to a spokesperson for the State Department, they are taking issues like that into consideration when it comes to distribution of their apps.
I am sure as we look into the future that we will be seeing many new apps that are focused towards the governments goal of build a community focused on technology and human rights. It will be interesting to see what apps are developed in the future towards this goal along with how widespread this community may become.