Winning Hackathon idea features family tech support via secure remote phone-to-phone access

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Providing instructions over a call to resolve a phone-related issue has always been an issue for everyone, especially for tech-savvy individuals. Well, here’s good news: this might end soon with the new “family tech support” app idea that won this year’s Microsoft Hackathon.

We love our families, but being bugged to help them solve problems with their phones during gatherings probably makes your eyeballs roll. Worse, if you’re branded as the official tech support of the fam, you might get inconvenient calls any time of the day just to be asked how to turn the mobile data on, how to enlarge texts, where these specific apps are, and so on. Even more, providing instructions through calls is extremely, extremely challenging. If you’re resolving more complex troubleshooting, it’s like trying to find something in a pitch-black room. These are the same concerns raised by the winning team of the 2022 Hackathon that defeated more than 68,000 Microsoft employees across 89 countries. The idea is to create a dedicated app that will allow tech-literate members of the family to access the Android phones of their relatives remotely. This will give them an easier path to troubleshoot the handheld devices of their loved ones in a secure connection.

The idea of remotely accessing a device is not new to Microsoft. There’s its Remote Desktop that lets you access computers in another location and the Phone Link (formerly Your Phone app) that allows you to interact with your phone using your PC. The same app concept is also not new in other brands that offer almost the same solutions. The family tech support app that won the 2022 Hackathon, however, will have a very specific design to allow help request notifications and convenient delivery of tech support phone to phone. And while it will enable the techy relative to access your phone remotely, Rajeshwari Godbole, who is a part of the team, explained that their winning entry reflects the opposite idea of the parental control apps in families.

“With a senior-focused app, you need to restrict less and be able to control without intruding on privacy, giving them the freedom but being able to monitor to quickly fix things for them,” said Rajeshwari Godbole, a developer for Microsoft’s Nuance Dragon Anywhere dictation app and also a member of the team. “Everyone I talk to says they need this, whether it’s for their dad, uncle, grandparent, a cousin who isn’t tech-savvy, or an adult autistic child who lives in a residence. There’s a huge market for this kind of help.”

According to the team, the family tech support app will give tech-savvy family members a concrete way to provide tech support to their loved ones while respecting their privacy. With this, the app will allow the solution receivers to revoke access to their phones anytime to prevent the tech support from viewing specific device content. In relation to this, the team wants to highlight the importance of security when allowing remote access from another person. This is why the family tech support app will be specifically designed only to enable remote device control by trusted relatives or individuals.

“I want to help my dad, but working in the security space myself, I know what bad actors can do when given the opportunity and how good intentions can be abused,” said Michael Monwuba, a member of the family tech support app team and a part of Microsoft’s Audit team. “So security was key.”

Monwuba’s background in privacy and security auditing led the team to come up with the idea to give the app the ability to cancel a help request if it isn’t answered promptly. Through this and the power to revoke a connection anytime, the app can assure better security.

The concept of the family tech support app will have a broader company review. And for final approval, the team will present their idea to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in the coming months. During the process, the concept might get more improvements, leading to more features that will further highlight its specific family-centered tech support purpose.

More about the topics: apps, Microsoft Hackathon, Microsoft Remote Desktop, security, Tech Support

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