The curious case of Vodafone, NZ house values and methamphetamine

Unlike the 400,000 people in the UK who have used methamphetamine I have never experienced the drug and never will, life goes pretty fast as it is.

Compared to the ubiquity of coke and weed here, this is one scourge that has never hit critical mass in this country; it has never gone ‘viral’. There may be many reasons for this, but it is good that it has bypassed us.

Things are very different in the US where rural communities in many states have been devastated by its use. The superlative film Winter’s Bone portrays this very well and I have hitched through some of these towns and been truly frightened – here Mad Max meets Deliverance.

But if it’s big in the US, it’s huge in Australia and New Zealand. In the old days, youth in the latter country would get wasted, drive into sulphur springs in Roturua and contribute to the worst death fatality rates in the world. Now they cook up and get wasted at home… or make it and sell it from home.

Rather more worryingly, thousands of homes in New Zealand have been ruined by the chemicals that are used to make methamphetamine. Moreover, home-owners or landlords who try to sell these homes without mentioning the previous use of toxins are acting illegally.

The value of these homes have subsequently dived but, hang on a minute, what’s that coming over the mountain? The cavalry, John Wayne? That bloke who owns Innocent Drinks?

No, it’s the operator Vodafone that has stumbled on a way to stop New Zealand houses being condemned and pulled down and stifle a drugs epidemic

The company is working with a New Zealand-based company called MethMinder to create boxes that effectively act as ‘smoke alarms’ whenever anybody decides to set up a methamphetamine lab in their house.

Fitted with a Vodafone SIM card the box (rather like a electricity meter) is tamper-proof and visibly attached to house. If somebody cooks up it emits an alarm to the Rozzers or the landlord if it detects meth chemicals in the air.

MetMinder and Vodafone started testing the product four years ago and it has been so successful in deterring would-be narcoistas that it wants to bring the technology to the UK and other countries.

I can see it catching on, a drug alarm such as this could go far. For example, every time a middle-class mother opened a second bottle of wine once the kids had gone to bed would be swooped on by the SAS, they could affix the box to mini-drones whenever anybody stoops down in a pub toilet to snort up crap.

I appreciate that operators had to diversify after they made the unfathomable mistake of offering free data and losing their businesses to social media sites, but this is interesting. I look forward to EE branching out in similar ways when it launches 4G. BOAlarm, FartAlarm, UglyPersonAlarm all coming your way soon.

* Many thanks to Times journalist Nic Fildes who brought this story to my attention

Monty (711 Posts)

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.