The horror stories about catfishing and the fears of meeting axe murderers off of Craigslist have long been cited as a reason to avoid meeting people offline, but timid potential online daters, fear no more. Kitestring, a web app that launched earlier this year, is here to save the day. I stumbled across Kitestring yesterday, and it immediately occurred to me that it is the kind of tool that could make a huge difference in making online dating safer (and if nothing else, providing a helluva lot of peace of mind).
As Mary Rockcastle over at Bust points out, Kitestring is the app we’ve all been waiting for. Even the most intrepid online networkers (ahem, like myself) know the risks that come with meeting up with a stranger, and while there are systems that can be put in place to try to protect ourselves, nothing works as well as the buddy system. In my single days, there was more than one time that I would meet up with someone, or perhaps decide I was going home with someone after a hot date, and end up texting my roommate to say, “Hey, if I’m not home tomorrow, the blond in the leather jacket is named Ryan Gosling [dare to dream, bitches] and you’d better come find me.”
Kitestring is basically a streamlined tech version of the buddy-system. It’s super easy: Users sign up through the website with their name and phone number, and then Kitestring texts the user a verification code. Once the verification code is received, the user enters it into the form on the website along with the password they would like for their account. Once a user is verified and completely signed up, they have the option to enter in up to ten different contacts.
When logged in and on the homepage, users will see a little umbrella with the question, “Going out?” and they can select a check in either half an hour, two hours, or five hours away, or any time and date the user chooses. All they have to do is click the pink “EMBARK” button and it sets up the check in. They also have a way to set up a check in code (so should your phone be commandeered by a predator, your contacts would still be alerted if the code isn’t used) and an immediate distress code. Users can select the emergency message that goes out, and contacts can be enabled and disabled at will.
Kitestring's biggest flaw is every smartphone obsessive's nightmare: A dead battery. According to their FAQ, if your phone dies an emergency notification will go out to your contacts since, of course, there's no way for to respond and check in. In that case, it may be best to remind your contacts that your phone is dying or grab a portable charger to carry around when you know you're going to need a check-in.
Oh, and for those of you who are concerned about your privacy and the privacy of your contacts, Stephan Boyer, MIT grad student and the creator of Kitestring, assured me that privacy was of the highest priority. In his own words:
Privacy is something I take very seriously. All web traffic is encrypted with the same encryption that banks use, and I'm using all the best practices on the servers to keep the data secure. The code is actually open source and open to public scrutiny. So a technical user with a curious mind can go and see that the code doesn't do anything fishy with their data. All user data is stored in a database on the cloud, and the connection between the servers and the database is encrypted and secured.
When a user account is deleted, all information regarding that account is permanently deleted with it. The database is backed up daily (just in case something catastrophic happens), but the backups are only kept for 24 hours—after that, any deleted data is gone forever…So, to put it simply, Kitestring does everything possible to keep user data secure. Users are valuable to me, but not for their phone numbers and contacts. Users are valuable because they spread the word faster than I can by myself. And I would never attempt a sketchy move that would jeopardize their trust.
Boyer was inspired to create this project by his girlfriend: She lives in a sketchy neighborhood, and has often asked him to check in with her to make sure she made it home. He figured that there had to be a way to make it automated, and that clearly, he and his girlfriend are not the only folks who set up this kind of system for safety. “I wanted to make it super easy for people to set up a trip and feel a little bit safer when walking alone at night,” Boyer told me in an email.
Although Kitestring only launched in early February they already have about 4500 users, and according to Boyer, it seems that the app has struck a chord with the BDSM community. Folks have been using the app when meeting up with new play partners, and Boyer has received feedback suggesting it could be useful for everyone from “parents to emergency relief workers to mountain climbers and hikers” (as an aside, it also struck me as a tool that could be useful for sex workers, who already utilize the buddy system extensively, but would absolutely benefit from a streamlined version of it).
Boyer says his intentions are to keep Kitestring free, and possibly release a premium version that will help keep the service functioning. The premium version may offer upgrades like more contacts, a new “interval mode” that continuously checks up on you rather than just once, the ability to change the “grace period” (which is currently fixed at 5 minutes) for responding to the check-in reminders, and more.
Kitestring is a remarkable app that could be useful to a myriad of communities, and it’s baffling that it took this long for someone to create it. It is exciting to see where Kitestring will go from here, and what good it is going to do in the world. While the responsibility of safety still falls on the shoulders of each individual, perhaps Boyer’s way of making the buddy system fast, pretty, and easy will help encourage risk-takers to reach out (and make it easier for those risk-takers who already do).
As I said above, I thought of how useful this would be for daters who want to make sure that their dates end in bliss rather than blood. Now, you can even get your Craigslist Casual Encounters hook up on, or meet that rando from HowAboutWe for a cocktail, or hell, just get home from work in the dark and feel at ease knowing that Kitestring has your back. Get your phones ready, because now you singles who are still resisting the online dating pool don't have a good excuse not to try it!