This idea sprang from my paranoia: sometimes I imagine walking down a lonely alley and being attacked by thugs. I wonder if I saw them from the distance and they looked suspicious, would I take some pictures of them? Would photographing them make them think twice about attacking me? On the other extreme, they might get angry and try to destroy the camera, not without hurting me beforehand.

It is probably not a good idea on relying on the ability to take a picture in an emergency situation like that. Nevertheless, since I just ordered a new mobile phone with GPS capabilities, I wonder about using it for a kind of emergency service. The idea is simple: in an emergency, take a picture and send it to a known address. A service at that address will notify emergency services. Since the picture has GPS information embedded, emergency services can find you easily. From the photo, they might get a good impression for the requirements of the situation.

Another possibility would be for existing photo sharing services like flickr to watch out for certain tags. That way the user would not have to remember an extra address for the emergency photos.

Thinking about it a bit more, some enhancements come to mind. Emergency operators could cooperate with phone network providers to call you back and determine your location even if you don't have a GPS receiver (this could also work for calls and SMS - not sure if it is being done already). With modern mobile phones, it might be possible to make a life video connection to the scene of emergency and have somebody give you instructions through the phone (for example instruct you how to try to revive somebody). It might be useful to have a software and service that already integrates those features - in theory emergency services might be able to call you on your video phone just like that, but without a standardized way, it is probably too complicated in the actual emergency situation.

Sinister Aspects

While I am not sure how useful such a service could be in reality, some possible sinister aspects also come to mind:

  • What if the pictures were open to the public? Some weirdos might be hanging out on the site watching for pictures of bad accidents. Presumably the site would have to be accessible for emergency services only.
  • On the other hand, such a site would be a good source of pictures for newspapers and blogs. Maybe a healthy money could be made, which could be donated to a foundation to support victims that don't have good health insurance.
  • The worst: what if the service took off and people would start to photograph everything that seems somewhat suspicious. In no time, we would have a very bad police state situation, worse than fascism, were any activity that is ever so slightly out of line gets reported immediately. Not something I would want to be responsible for.

Since it relies on cooperation with emergency service, this idea would probably not make a good startup. But it might be worthwhile to pitch it to the authorities. Working on a contract that goes back to an idea of my own would still be better than working on something that has nothing to do with my interests whatsoever. Also, contracting with the government is probably a very good deal - after all, they usually don't care about money, as it is only the taxpayers money they are spending, not their own.

Because of the complications, this is another throwaway idea I probably won't tackle. But I would be interested in your opinions. If you think it might have some merit, I might change my mind about it.