The below statement was written by Safe IQ Director Lucy Smyth. She wrote it after she successfully challenged Google on a second appeal after the app Ugly Mugs was told it had to remove it’s call screening feature, or face removal completely. The call screening feature was “determined to be unnecessary or not aligned with the core functionality of (the) app”.Google had already granted a number of exceptions for other apps using the feature. The Ugly Mugs app has been using this feature since 2013, allowing workers to screen incoming calls and text messages for potentially dangerous clients, and to use a specific system to review clients. The app also allows users to manually search for phone numbers in a database to check if they are associated with potentially dangerous clients.
Lucy went to the media to raise awareness about what was happening and a number of Sex Workers also spoke to the press about how vital the app was for them as a tool to manage their safety. Lucy was successful in her second appeal and the app was granted an exception. This was not widely reported in the press.
We are very thankful to have received an exception from Google today, which means we can continue to provide the UglyMugs.ie safety app. Technology can be utilised to improve safety for communities at risk of abuse and crime. The UglyMugs.ie app and the automatic safety alerts it provides is an example of a critical safety tool that a marginalised group at high risk of crime rely on to enable them to stay as safe as possible. We are relieved that Google has accepted our application and we can continue to provide this vital safety service for people doing sex work in Ireland. We remain committed to continuing to advocate for legislative and policy change that will uphold the right to safe working conditions that people doing sex work should have. We hope that the Irish government, and especially Garda Síochána, will soon adopt a better approach to policing around sex work, where the safety of people in sex work is prioritised, and resources are focused on the many serious crimes being committed against sex workers. In 2018 sex workers in the Republic of Ireland reported over 1,600 crimes to UglyMugs.ie, but less than 1% of these were also reported to Gardai. We are deeply concerned by the sharp increase in crime against people in sex work, especially violent crime, over the last two years and will continue to seek an adequate response to it from the state. Whilst we work towards the long term goals of safe working conditions for all people in sex work, and recourse to support and justice for people in sex work who experience crime, we are glad that we can continue to provide the UglyMugs.ie safety app on Google/Android phones.