The “PetSpotter” app developed by the Tree House Humane Society of Chicago was created to help pet owners report and locate lost pets. Using iPhone technologies such as GPS, camera, and maps; PetSpotter allows users to instantly post information on lost or found pets to an online database. This information is posted directly to PetSpotter.org. Users can also post it to their Facebook page. Every post is immediately emailed to veterinary hospitals and shelters in the user’s area. The app also includes an option to turn posts into a PDF poster than can be emailed or printed. The app is free for anyone to download from the appstore, however it is currently only available for iPhone users. Those without an iPhone can still access information about lost and found pets on the PetSpotter website.
The social justice issue that this app addresses is the growing number of stray cats and dogs, especially in urban areas. This app is designed to decrease that number, and help lost pets be reunited with their owners. A lot of social justice issues are problems that are occurring over a large geographical range. Although this is the case with strays, as it’s a problem in many different cities across the world, the app is designed to connect users in one specific area. As Amy Light and Rosemary Luckin discuss in their publication “Designing for social justice: people, technology, learning”, human rights work, or in this case, animal rights work, are influenced by policies of social justice and applied at a local level (Light and Luckin 2008, p.10). When you sign up for PetSpotter, you enter your address, allowing the GPS technology to help users in the same area connect. The way the app is designed makes it very easy for people in a certain city to post and view reports of lost and found pets. Users can make a post about a lost or found animal which allows them to upload a photo, give a detailed description, contact information, as well as an option to include the exact GPS location of where the pet was lost or found. These locations are pinned on the map function of the app. This technology allows users in the same area to connect instantly, helping lost animals reunite with their owners as quickly as possible.
Another concept discussed by Luckin and Light is “technology-enhanced learning”. They tell us that technology can “enhance learning and equip learners with skills, abilities, and knowledge to help them articulate their voices” (Light and Luckin 2008, p. 27). Before we had smartphones and computers, there was not much that could be done to help stray animals find their homes. If someone lost a pet, their only hope of getting it back was to make posters by hand and hang them up around the neighborhood. However, now that there is advanced mobile technology like the iPhone, pet owners and members of a community can connect instantly, and share information about lost and found animals. In addition to the map that shows where pets have been lost and found; the app also has guides on cat and dog care, as well as a link to a donation page for the Tree House Humane Society. These functions allow users to go above and beyond when it comes to caring for stray cats and dogs. In other words, according to Light and Luckin, it supports users social and communicative activities (Light and Luckin 2008, p.28). The social justice issue of stray animals goes beyond just reuniting lost pets with their owners. Those pets that do not have owners are often brought to shelters, where they still need love and support from the community. This app allows animal-lovers to help in many different ways, even if it’s just donating $10 to the shelter.
There are some privacy and accessibility concerns with the design of this app. When you first sign up, you have to enter in your name, home address, phone number, and email address. Users also have the option to connect their Facebook. This is a lot of personal information, which some people are skeptical about giving out. Perhaps this is because a lot has happened in the past where surveillance power was abused. For example, a Florida police department was sued for improperly tracking the movements of thousands of cellphones without a warrant (Fung 2014). However, I do not believe users of this app should be worried about anyone untrustworthy accessing their information. The Tree House Humane Society only asks for your location and contact information so their technology and services can work to the best of their ability. By knowing your exact location, or the exact location of where you’ve lost or found a pet, the app can help you connect with pet owners and shelters that are closest to you. This helps the animal get to the place they need to be as soon as possible. Furthermore, by providing your contact information, if someone finds your lost pet, or vice-versa, you can contact them immediately. I do not believe an organization that is dedicated to the wellbeing of animals would be anything suspicious with one’s personal information.
I believe the Tree House Humane Society does a great job at making its PetSpotter technology accessible to a wide variety of people. Although the app itself is only available to iPhone users, all it’s functions are accessible from the PetSpotter website. This is beneficial to people who don’t have access to an iPhone, but do have access to a computer. The desktop version of PetSpotter would also be a better option to people who have a hard time seeing, as the map is much larger, and easier to read. Both the mobile and desktop version of PetSpotter follows several of the accessibility guidelines outlined by Soderquist in the article “Why mobile Web accessibility matters- best practices to make your mobile site accessible”. For example, the map on the desktop site is large, color coded, and simple to navigate. There is a search bar that allows users to put in their current location. According to the article’s guidelines, it is “simple with an intuitive single-column interface”, “short and do the point” as well as “geographically relevant to the visitors current location” (Soderquist 2012). A screen shot of the interface of both the desktop and mobile versions of PetSpotter are displayed below.
Fung, B. (2014, June 3). How hard should it be for cops to track your location? A new lawsuit revives the debate. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
Light, A., & Luckin, R. (2008). Designing for social justice: People, technology, learning.
Soderquist. (2012, September 13). Why mobile Web accessibility matters – best practices to make your mobile site accessible. Retrieved March 7, 2015.