Bridging the mobile gap

It’s been interesting to watch the U.S. catch up with Europe when it comes to SMS. If you haven’t come across it before (I just don’t want to assume here), SMS (stands for Short Message Service) is the ability for phone users to send short text messages to one another using a mobile phone, up to 160 characters. Take-up in Europe seemed well ahead of the US on this front, though numbers of messages sent in the US seems to be catching up. With the increased proliferation of mobile Internet services, and more ubiquitous services like Twitter, there are those that predict the drop in usage of SMS, though this doesn’t seem to be happening just yet.

I just came across a press release of a new service in the U.S. that uses this technology. SJA Mobile have released a service that’s being used by the FBI to allow people to send anonymous tips to them. Here’s the press release:

SJA Mobile & FBI Launch SMS Tipline
SJA Mobile today jointly announced with the FBI’s Washington D.C Field Office and Metropolitan Police an initiative which will enable D.C-area citizens to anonymously report crime tips via a novel new medium – SMS. SMS, or “text messaging,” has up until now never been used before as a medium for crime tips.
Citizens in the D.C area can report a crime or homeland security tip by sending a text message with the tip to the number 50411. The 5-digit number to text to is called a “Short Code.” Currently the service is available on all major wireless carriers, along with several Tier 2 carriers.
SJA Mobile is in talks expand the service to several other major cities.

The interesting thing here is that SJA Mobile are acting as a proxy for the messages that are being sent in. This allows them to withhold the sender’s phone number and make the message appear anonymous, and I would expect the FBI wouldn’t normally request the identity of the person who has sent the message. It’s an interesting concept, yet it still relies on the person sending the tip trusting the provider to keep their information confidential.

Still, I think it’s a step in the right direction, using technology to speed up and simplify processes like this makes them more likely to be used by people looking to report any information.

Anyone know of a similar service here in the UK?

One comment

  1. I don’t know about a direct service, but the UK Crimestoppers org can apparently be contacted via an intermediary. See the bottom of the page here – . That page makes it look like perhaps SJA Mobile aren’t the first?
    I found a few reports of direct Crimestoppers UK trials, mainly in East London, for school kids to report knife crimes.

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