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Lebanese Army Tries to Stem Tide of Violence With New Smartphone App

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, September 3 2013

Fireworks or gunshots? Who knows--check Way to Safety (baron valium/Flickr)

Tech-savvy entrepreneurs in Lebanon are making the streets safer by warning users of gunfights, roadblocks and other hazards. The smartphone app Ma2too3a takes crowdsourced information about protests, traffic and conflict and maps it. Another app analyzes sounds and can tell you if what you're hearing is gunfire or something less threatening, like fireworks. Taking their cues from the public demand for this kind of tool, the Lebanese army last week released their own security app called LAF Shield.

“In other places in the world, the only thing that might obstruct your path is traffic,” Mohammad Taha, the creator of Ma2too3a, told the Financial Times. “In Lebanon there are many things that can happen.”

His creation has been downloaded more than 80,000 times, which is not an insignificant number in a country where smartphone penetration is below 50 percent.

Another app, Way to Safety, was created by Firas Wazneh's and is more situation-specific. Users can record gunfire and send it to the company website where it can be compared to a sound database to determine the weapon. With multiple recordings, the app can triangulate different submissions to determine the location and “type of fighting.” The Financial Times noted that is was especially apt for Lebanon where, "manic partying often overlaps with political violence" so that the Lebanese can "distinguish between the sounds of fireworks and ballistics."

Quartz reported that Way to Safety will be free for citizens in known “hot zones,” where violence is more common.

The Lebanese army's app will allow citizens to communicate directly and effectively with authorities. App users can take photos or video of suspicious vehicles or packages (if you see something—say something) and send them to the army. The army can then investigate anything they find equally suspicious.

With the app, the army is trying to harness the power of the crowd in its struggle to keep violence from spilling into the country from Syria.

Per an official announcement on their website, the army aims “to involve the largest numbers of citizens in defending the country.” And it started by picking up on a good idea from the tech community.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.