From a teenager going on a gap year to a businessman on a dangerous trip to North Korea: who should they call in case of emergency? DS-48, a new venture offering a highly tailored, intelligence-led, concierge service is hoping the answer will be Overwatch.
That's the name given to an advanced application and tracking system operated by a team of British Army, Special Forces and SAS veterans who claim to offer emergency aid via a network of "on-the-ground operatives, anywhere in the world" – all at the press of a large, red, SOS button.
It's a bold claim. To find out more, IBTimes UK sat down with Charles Andrews, co-founder of DS-48 and former Scots Guard, at the firm's Mayfair-based offices in London.
When asked if, at any point during his career, he wished he had an application like Overwatch to save him from a tricky situation, Andrews laughed.
"Subconsciously, there must have been," he said. "I never sat down and said, gosh it would have been nice to...well, maybe I did. I'm sure the thought was there." "What about that helicopter incident?" interjected our PR contact in the room. "Which one? Oh, yes," he paused. "Well, that was an airplane."
And so began our behind-the-scenes peek into the world of real-time intelligence, smartphone-enhanced concierge services and personal tracking.
The Overwatch system claims to track users to within eight metres distance and can be used by clients for a variety of scenarios – from receiving real-time and localised crime alerts, hearing intelligence briefings about high-risk travel destinations or even to alert the nearest authorities during a hostage situation.
It works via GPS or on any WiFi-enabled device but if you go out-of-range of these services the team offers a 'satellite sleeve' for enhanced coverage. It has reportedly been tested rigorously. "We have had it operational when a team were going free-diving in the Antarctic for four weeks. They were equipped with satellite and it worked beautifully," Andrews said.
It sounds typically high-end, but that's not to say DS-48 is only targeting the elite, even if it was originally envisioned that way. Theoretically, Andrews says, it will be open to everyone.
"The main audience went from being the elite to everybody," he told IBTimes UK. "We have boxed it to four levels now – individuals, explorers, corporate and international agencies. It could be a teenage girl going to a concert to, and I will say this carefully, to high-profile VIP going to a major conference. A key example is gap year students."
Clients will be offered a subscription to the service. "Ideally, we want people to take out a year's subscription," Andrews said. "[The] month-by-month cost is approximately £60.
"So, if you are in London day-to-day, we will tell you if there is going to be a tube strike which affects you, whether there will be another Brexit demonstration, or if there is heightened security like a bomb scare, for example. Anything that is specific to you that will disrupt your pattern of life we will send you as an alert message."
Of course, you can't expect the base-fee to cover the cost of a personal guard or a kidnap response team. For that, DS-48 offer a £300 high-end package which includes "a more bespoke" service. It boasts a crisis manager, private reports and personal travel briefings.
"We were going to target big organisations or businesses, key people concerned about family or loved ones, but then realised that it was a bit silly to keep it that high-end because everybody could do with information. In this day and age information is so easy to access so why not make it open to everybody without being too elite about it."
Of course, the world has a number concierge-style services – from everyday chores to luxury trips to security services, even if the latter is usually branded 'Risk Management' rather than 'Anti-Kidnapping protection'.
"The competition is out there," Andrews admits, however maintains they are using older technology.
"We keep it all in-house and when it comes to a response facility, if we need to go to provide help or assistance that's also done in-house – our competitors don't do that. They will try to find a third-party contractor and say 'we have a problem with one of our clients'. It's just not efficient or fluid."
It's easy to get carried away with the more extreme aspects of the service – guns, hostages, terrorist attacks – but just how far can DS-48 legally go? "We won't go in all guns shooting, no," Andrews replied when asked.
"We provide, if necessary, armed bodyguards and a whole range of security services from cybersecurity to risk assessments to providing close protection. In some areas we will, of course, have armed guards.
"The theoretical situation is that our men or women could get into a situation where they have to draw their weapons. In a kidnapping situation for example, if we are looking out for our clients they may work in that situation.
"If [the client] presses the SOS button then we can deploy a team on the ground to the situation. If they say it's for a gun battle the police will be there anyway. We would extract the person back to the safe house or airport."
"The theoretical situation is that our men or women could get into a situation where they have to draw their weapons" - Charles Andrews, CEO, DS-48
While it would be easy to dismiss the application as fantasy, the team appear dedicated to the project. Taken into the Security Operations Centre (SOC) and given a demonstration of how it works, it's easy to see how it could be upscaled and applied to a variety of purposes.
The security team, also made up of ex-Army members, demonstrated the world map showing live clients as coloured dots. DS-48 tech could send real-time updates, use geo-fencing to highlight areas, roads and travel routes while tracking movements near high-risk zones.
With all this information, all this intelligence, it's easy to let the mind drift to misuse of data. Could, theoretically, a client be tracked without their knowledge? Could a parent track their child without consent? It's a blunt no. "We are not Big Brother," asserts Andrews.
British Army vets behind the project
There is a privacy function which you can turn on," he elaborated. "All it will have then is your last known 'ping', last known position. If a client wants to do that, they can, but they would have to accept the fact we cannot contact them in case of emergency."
Meeting the team, it's clear that they are a well-oiled unit – largely thanks to their past history together. "The main people are British Army vets, but when I say vets, you know, we are not that old," Andrews joked. "We are veterans of certain backgrounds and predominantly they are Special Forces or intelligence backgrounds."
He continued: "Just because we have all worked together in the past we know it's a tried and tested family unit. We need to ensure that we are ahead of the curve, not just competitively but also with information on the ground – we have got to get the right people who have access to certain networks [and] certain operational strengths."
Lightening the mood, IBTimes UK changed the subject. DS-48 – that's a cutting-edge, high-tech, Jason Bourne-esque code-name, right? "We were going to come up with a cool funky name to indicate what we do," Andrews laughed. "It's the street address of the office. Not one person has picked that up."
Overwatch officially launches on June 27.