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App hopes to cure teenage ‘smombies’ of their affliction

May 11,2018
이미지뷰
Top: A screenshot of a new app for “smombies.” Above: A traffic light installed on the pavement in Seoul to warn pedestrians on their phones. [SCREEN CAPTURE, YONHAP]
As the number of zombie-like smartphone users on the streets continues to increase, Korea’s telecom regulator has rolled out what might be a solution - an app that bans teens from walking while using their phones.

The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) has added a feature to its “Cyber Safety Zone” Android app for teen users that will automatically lock the smartphone if the user walks five to seven steps.

If they want to resume using their smartphone, they have to stand still and push the unlock button. The feature went into effect on Thursday.

The feature comes amid increasing worries about teen “smombies,” a portmanteau of smartphone and zombie.

In the past five years, traffic accidents related to smartphones increased by 220 percent and accidents involving pedestrians using smartphones rose by 160 percent.

Those aged 20 and under were 40.1 percent of the victims, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

The accidents happened most frequently between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., when students are heading home from school.

“The new smombie prevention app is expected to help prevent accidents involving teens using smartphones while walking,” said Lee Hyo-sung, the chairman of the telecom watchdog.

The Cyber Safety Zone app is available on One Store, an Android app store run by service providers SK Telecom, KT, LG U+ and tech company Naver. Different versions of the app are available for parents and children. The parents’ and children’s apps are connected, and parents can control their children’s smartphone use.

Even if the smombie prevention feature is activated and the phone is locked, children can still make an emergency call to their parents.

KCC Chairman Lee said the regulator is considering introducing an app for adults next year on Android and other operating systems, including iOS. Over 90 percent of the population in Korea uses smartphones, so accidents aren’t limited to teens.

In Japan, mobile carrier Docomo introduced a service in 2013 to stop pedestrians from using smartphones by letting users set their Android phone to “safety mode,” which gave them an error message if they tried to walk while using it.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government is also trying to combat smartphone zombies using urban planning. It announced a plan to install 424 thin plastic traffic lights in the pavement at major crosswalks such as Sejong-ro and City Hall in central Seoul.

The signals will light up simultaneously with existing crosswalk lights.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]