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Car alarm going off? Send a message to the car owner with Plext

We’ve all heard the occasional car alarm going off down the street, or a car with its lights on wasting its battery away — and you can’t really do much unless you know who owns the car. Well, as the saying goes — there’s an app for that.

Or rather, there’s an app that’s trying to fix that. Plext is an iOS and Android app that lets people anonymously message each other based on their license plate numbers, and while it sounds like a great idea, there are a number of limitations it has that doesn’t make it as useful as you could hope.

First of all, you need to download the app to be able to see messages from these good Samaritans, or if you want to send messages yourself. So texting a license plate number via Plext when there’s something wrong won’t really guarantee that the person will be able to see it, unless they have also downloaded the app.

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The app is pretty simple in how it works, in that all you have to do is add your license plate number, and that sort of acts as your user ID. It’s practically like any other messaging service, except you’re attaching a label that can be seen in the real world that people can use to reach you.

But how would you know if someone has the app? You can’t, unless they make it known themselves that they’re on Plext. The company’s current solution is offering cards people can print and stick under the windshield for people they send Plexts to. Which means you’re basically carrying Plext business cards — not exactly a solution most people would partake in.

If you do happen to see a card under your windshield, downloading the app will show you any Plexts that have been sent your way, as the service stores all undelivered messages.

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Plext’s creator, Josh Coyne, says the company tried to make it so that all you would need is someone’s license plate number to send a message to them, without requiring them to need the app to see the messages. That’s illegal, though, and likely for good reason — exposing people to unsolicited messages based on their license plate numbers could open up a whole universe of potential harassment.

If someone does send you a message in the app that borders on spam or harassment, Coyne says there’s a blocking feature similar to most messaging apps.

Plext has a long way to go, as it needs a strong user base to survive. But if it can get a good following, the company needs to make sure people aren’t Plexting while driving, which is pretty likely. Coyne said they’re hoping to bring hands-free features in future updates.