The victim of harassment in a street she thought she knew, filmmaker Madhureeta Anand knew she has to do something to help other women avoid such situations in future. And this is where the idea of Phree, an app where women can check beforehand whether a place is safe to visit based on ratings given by others, came about.
Soon after the incident, Anand pitched the concept to her friends, but nothing fruitful came out of it. While in Palo Alto, California, she happened to discuss the idea with the husband of a friend. “He started asking questions. Do you want to make money? How do you want to do this? I answered all of them. In 20 minutes, he said we will build this app free of cost. That was it,” she remembers, adding that later she came to know the man was Pradeep Bakshi, managing partner at Trantor Inc.
Anand is taking a different approach with app, especially since ratings can be rigged. For instance, we are going to colleges and communities and asking them to rate places first so that the “base ratings is genuine”. Then a person can give a rating only based on a phone number, so no anonymous ratings. Then if in a certain area a bunch of people — say employees in a restaurant — rate a place as safe within a certain period of time, the rating will be scrutinised to ensure it is genuine, she explained.
“We don’t have a point-based rating. We have ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’. You can only choose between the two because we feel that it is very hard to have a score. If a place is marked safe by lots of people and an incident occurs there, then we would certainly mark it unsafe,” Anand said, adding that the rating is also intended to make establishments conscious of this.
“There will be community action to make the area safe because wherever women travellers go, other people follow. It makes good business sense for them. If an incident happens, it will certainly bring the rating down and we will put a note about it,” she added.
Now, users are also marking areas as unsafe because of other reasons. Anand gave examples of streets where cattle attacks or naked wires have prompted users to mark it as unsafe. Phree is making the data available to the police and civic authorities too, so that efforts can be made to change the perception. “We are talking to the Delhi government at the moment and will soon approach the Maharashtra government too.”
With the pandemic restricting travel, the app’s growth has been hit. But a Phree Plus section is being planned for 2021, opening up new layers and the option to rate locations outside India too. “It will have all the helplines on it and a community where people can talk to each other about safety,” the 47-year-old who has directed movies like Kajarya said, calling Phree a Quora for safety.
She also plans to use her prowess as a filmmaker to create mini-episodes once the Phree Plus is launched. Users will gain access to the section by rating a few places. And women will be able to see lists like ‘Top 10 bars’ in an area and get suggestions for safe vacations and car hires.
While it is early days for the app when it comes to numbers, Anand is clear she does not want downloads for the sake of it. “We are working with genuine groups and letting it grow naturally, more organically. We are doing this because it is the only good way,” she says, emphasising that her app is also a movement.
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