HelpTalk Can be of Great Help During Emergencies, But does the App Pose Privacy and Security Concerns?

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Finding the contact of relevant government agencies during emergencies like fire outbreaks, accidents or even robberies often take a lot of time as many Nigerians do not have that information readily available.

HelpTalk is a free govtech app that helps people get help during emergencies by providing access to the contacts of relevant government agencies in the country so that they can make complaints or file reports.

The app was launched on the 27th of March 2020 and is available on Google Play Store.

Getting Help during Emergencies

TechNext had a chat with the founder of HelpTalk, Mayowa Adegoke about his app. During our conversation, Mayowa revealed that the idea for the app came about after he read about a domestic violence case in the news and was wondering how he could help other victims.

I read a lot of news daily, but I generally just read these news stories and forget about them. But this particular day, I read a story about domestic violence and forgot about it as usual. However, on my way back home, the thought of that news story just came back to my mind and kept pondering on it for a while. From there, the idea of the Domestic Violence section of the HelpTalk app came. I still kept thinking about if it’s possible for that original idea to still be improved. Then, I came up with the idea of the whole app as it stands today

Mayowa Adegoke, Founder of HelpTalk

He added that he hoped the app can help people solve their daily mundane problems. He said that If those day to day annoyances can be taken out of the way, we all can have more time to do more productive things. Those who are pharmacists can have more time to come up with new formulations and Engineers can have more time to think of the next big thing.

Mayowa Adegoke, Founder of HelpTalk

The HelpTalk app allows users to make complaints on a whole range of issues ranging from domestic violence, bad infrastructure like failing bridges, and even a suspected coronavirus case to mention only a few.

With the promise of being able to report issues on over 40 different types of issues people may come across in their daily lives, I reviewed the app.

Over 100 downloads

With a download size of just 7.6 MB, the HelpTalk app can be easily downloaded on Play Store. The app has over 100 downloads with a 5.0-star rating out of 31 reviews.

After downloading, users may find that the app is quite easy to use. It does not have a sign-in option but users have to agree to its privacy policy before proceeding.

While the app’s aesthetics look pretty bland with just a white background and green buttons, its logo, however, looks cool.

The general feel of the app was simple and easy to understand but the navigation was a little tiring as users have to keep swiping left to go through all the issues that can be reported on the app.

Making Complaints on HelpTalk

Making complaints on the app is very easy. Users have to surf and select the issues they want to report. The app will bring out a list of government agencies relevant to the issues that you can report to.

The app provides three options for users to reach the agency they have selected; users can either call, send an SMS or send an email. The app allows users to send complaints to multiple agencies at the same time.

After selecting the mode of complaints, the app then redirects users to either the SMS or Mail app on the users’ device. The users enter then enter their complaints and send them to the provided number or email.

With HelpTalk you dont have to visit a Police Station before you can report a crime.

When asked how his app confirms if the agency has received the complaints, Mayowa explained that the contact provided on the app is verified to be the real phone numbers, emails and SMSes that the agencies use to interact with members of the public. He added that users can rest assured that the agencies received their complaints especially emails.

Asked whether his app has a system in place to follow up complaints, Mayowa revealed that his company can follow up on all complaints made via email in the app but they don’t follow up with complaints made via phone calls and SMS due to technological constraints.

Security and Privacy

HelpTalk’s privacy policy indicates that user information is retained on the users’ device and not collected. However, When I tried to use the SMS feature to make a complaint to an agency, it also sent the complaint to a number which I found to be registered to Okwudili Okechukwu, a co-founder of the app.

When asked about the discovery, Mayowa explained that it must have been a bug, that his number and his co-founders’ number were not included in numbers to send complaints to. He added that anyone experiencing that should send details to [email protected], and the company would follow up on the issue.

This, however, makes me wonder why Mayowa and his team don’t just search for the bug that causes the malfunction, find it and fix rather than alarming users while putting the security of the platform in doubt.

HelpTalk Can be of Help During Emergencies, But Are There Privacy Concerns?

Similarly, when making complaints using email mode on the HelpTalk app, I noticed several emails of news agencies and media influencers were copied.

Mayowa explained that the complaints by mails copy Channels and other relevant news houses to draw attention to the issue you or your community are facing and can follow up with you to feature such challenges along with their news broadcast. He added that such attention would incentivize agencies to act faster on your complaint. Users are also free to clear off any mail their complaint is being copied to.

Asked whether there was a prompt to let users know that the app is copying their mail complaints to news agencies, Mr Adegoke replied that copying news agencies is there by default, but users can clear it off if they don’t want to send to any news agency. He added that he will be looking into notifying users that the mails are copying news agencies.

HelpTalk’s privacy policy warns that the app isn’t 100% safe. When asked what kind of security the app has in place to protect user information, Mr Adegoke explained that nothing is 100% safe but they try to make sure the app is as safe as possible.

we can’t say HelpTalk is a hundred percent safe because nothing is hundred percent safe. We try very hard to make it as safe as possible, but any unexpected event could crop up. Measures we put in place to make data we collect safe includes strong passwords and our security measures for our internal systems. We also ensure that we use reputable third parties such as Google (which runs Google Analytics).

Mayowa Adegoke, Founder of HelpTalk

Summary

Generally, the solution HelpTalk is providing is filling an essential need, as many Nigerians are usually not bothered about the contacts of relevant authorities until they find themselves in urgent need. Moreover, the platform has the contact of agencies in the country from the federal to the state level.

The solution provided has the power to help revolutionise crime reporting and emergency response. In Nigeria, where firefighters and security agencies are often late to the location of emergencies, HelpTalk can help faster report thereby reducing response times.


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