Safety precautions within your cell phone

By Michelle Williams

A new website has introduced a safety service which allows users to take photos of the people around them, aiming to build a database of photos to aid investigators in case of crime.

Guardpic.me is a service that allows users to e-mail or text photos of a date, or someone one has left a bar with, to their database. With this photo application, if something were to happen to the user, law enforcement agencies have a photo of the person with whom they were last seen, as well as a time and possibly even a location.

With the slogan “you wear a seatbelt as a safety precaution… start using Guardpic.me for the same reason,” Guardpic.me advertises their service as a precautionary measure, aimed to help locate criminals and those who might be able to aid in an investigation. The service has been available for about two months, currently boasting 1,600 users.

Michael Vitale, CEO of Guardpic.me said that “about 95 percent of the current members are women.”

Vitale said that his company’s clientele is primarily college-age women and women working in the real estate business,

“We have younger college age women who use the service as well as realtors in their 40’s using the service at open houses,” he said.

Once the photos are sent to Guardpic.me, they are stored in the user’s account. The accounts are protected and can only be released to law enforcement agencies, either by a public safety officer’s request or by request of the Guardpic.me member.

Through its service, Guardpic.me hopes potential offenders can be identified for crimes ranging from harassment to murder.

The inspiration for the site came from Vitale’s personal experiences. Vitale watched a movie about a teenaged-girl who, while on vacation, goes on a date with a man she barely knows, only to be murdered and impossible to locate.

Thinking of the circumstances of his 13 and 20-year-old daughters, Vitale said he was alarmed at the rates of violence affecting young girls.

“I was amazed to find out how many times this happens, usually only at the hands of someone they know or just met,” he said.

Vitale hopes that with publicity, attackers will become wary after a photo has been taken.
“I hope that someday Guardpic.me will be well so known that once a potential attacker sees his photo taken, he will be less likely to commit a crime,” Vitale continued.

One UMass student, Gabrielle Gasparre, 18, a freshman from Brewster, NY, said she believes Guardpic.me is a sensible product for people who could be victimized by crime.

“I can see why this is a good idea,” she said, “it allows people to feel comfortable in different environments.”

Gasparre added that she could see how Guardpic.me could raise civil liberties issues.

“Despite that, I also could see this as an invasion of privacy, unless those having their photo taken are comfortable with their name and photo being sent to this website,” she said.

While the University of Massachusetts Amherst Crime Statistics for 2008 only report 20 acts of forcible sex offenses, it is believed by the Federal Bureau of Justice that 90 percent of rapes or sexual offenses are not reported to the police, placing the possible number of sex offenses on campus closer to 200.

Guardpic.me is a free service available to all online. To register, one must give a name, address, e-mail address and phone number. After receiving a confirmation e-mail, users may send photos immediately. To send photos to Guardpic.me by e-mail, send the photo to [email protected] or by SMS text message to (800) [email protected] The site is currently working on a one-touch application for smart phones.

Michelle Williams can be reached at [email protected]