A Telstra-backed company is beefing up its mobile platform for homeless youth with a new chatbot

  • Telstra-backed platform Ask Izzy with a new chatbot to assist homeless youth gain access to services they need.
  • Ask Izzy is designed to help people find housing, food, financial assistance, legal advice, family violence support and counselling services.
  • The product is set to be released in 2020.

A Telstra-backed mobile website is getting an upgrade to better help homeless youth gain access to services they need in Australia.

The mobile site Ask Izzy — designed by Infoxchange, a company that provides tech to address social justice issues — is launching a new chatbot to give young people experiencing homelessness a more conversational way find services they need.

Ask Izzy was first launched in 2016 and has been designed to help people find housing, food, financial assistance, legal advice, family violence support and counselling services – with more than 360,000 services now listed across Australia. To access the service you will need a phone with a sim card or a computer with internet access. Importantly, it’s free to access on Telstra’s network without using phone credit but if you have a different provider you’ll unfortunately have to buy credit or find wifi.

One major concern for people needing services is also the need for privacy. Although the site requests your location or provides the ability to do location-based searches, the platform is anonymous and does not keep data of your exact location.

David Spriggs, CEO of Infoxchange, outlined the company’s data policy to Business Insider Australia via email.

“Ask Izzy will only ask for information from a user if it’s absolutely necessary to find them the right service – for example, if they’re searching for emergency housing, we need to know things like their gender and their age. If they’re just looking for groceries, we only ask for their location so that we can show them the services closest to them,” Spriggs said.

“We’re very careful to protect the safety of our users, and will never use or publish any data that could personally identify a user. When we do use the location data collected from the site it is only ever reported on a suburb or LGA level.”

According to 2014 research by the University of Sydney, 95% of the homeless population have access to a mobile phone but more than 30% are disconnected due to credit, lack of charge or access to a phone. The report recommended telcos provide essential services without the need for credit. Ask Izzy is definitely targeted at providing this solution.

Ask Izzy’s chatbot update hopes to appeal to the youth homeless population and provide them essential services via their phone. Telstra’s research found young people are more likely to use a chatbot when seeking access to services. It is now working with service providers and more than 35 young people who have experienced homelessness to co-design a chatbot to best meet the needs of homeless youth.

The new technology is being developed with support from Telstra Foundation’s Tech4Good initiative and is currently being tested. It is set to be released in March 2020.

“It’s important for us to partner closely with service providers and young people with lived experience of homelessness, to ensure we’re developing technology that will help disrupt the cycle of youth homelessness,” Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs said in a statement.

A 2016 Census of Population and Housing found nearly 60% of homeless people are under 35.

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