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This Vigilante App Has Apparently Caused More Problems Than Helped Solve Crime

by rrollins, July 24, 2021



Image via Citizen

You may have heard of an app named Citizen. With more than seven million users in over 30 cities across the US, the top-ranked news app of 2020 hopes to make communities safer.

To give you a better idea of how the app works, it was previously named ‘Vigilante’ before being rebranded to Citizen. Not just that, it’s been kicked off Apple’s App Store too.

The app, created by Soon Inc, says it is “a personal safety network that empowers you to protect yourself and the people and places you care about.”

According to a report by Granate Kim for Fast Company, the platform currently offers COVID-19 contact tracing, real-time 911 alerts, instant access to crisis responders, and “safety tracking” for loved ones.

Mass surveillance has understandably been a hotly debated topic over the years, though Citizen believes “transparency is the single most powerful tool against crime and injustice.”

However, the truth isn’t as pretty. Citizen has a track record of lending itself to racial profiling, harassment, and increased surveillance.

In May this year, a Citizen livestream with over a million viewers started a manhunt in California, after founder Andrew Frame offered a US$30,000 reward for information leading to an arrest of a suspected arsonist. Instead of nabbing the actual criminal, Citizen misidentified a homeless man. A Los Angeles police spokesperson even called the app “disastrous.”

“The [Citizen] app gives people the power to say who is and who isn’t suspicious, and who belongs in their community. These apps are a digital superhighway for racial profiling,” Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst a nonprofit privacy watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation, told CBS.

Just last month, journalist David D tweeted about a false reported submitted via Citizen alerting to “30 men armed with guns” in his neighborhood, which turned out to be nothing of the sort. It was just a small gathering of family and friends.

Even more alarming, Citizen has recently tested an on-demand private police force that could be summoned with a push of a button. Thankfully, the app abandoned the new feature after just a month-long trial. Chances are, if the feature went live, neighborhoods would see hordes of policemen attend to “emergencies” that didn’t exist.

With the conversation surrounding police brutality and racial profiling, mass surveillance apps like Citizen could be doing more harm than good. Who is to say who should fit into their neighborhood, or which person comes across as suspicious?

While it’s definitely great to keep an eye out for possible crime, being the community snitch may not be the best course of action.

Last night @CitizenAppSFO allowed a blatant false report about 30 men armed with guns guns fighting over at Lake Merrit..Because there was an unfortunate shooting at the Lake last week, many freaked out when they this alert … cc @CatsCommentary pic.twitter.com/DGEFbNdas4

— Davey D (@mrdaveyd) June 28, 2021

[via Fast Company, cover image via Citizen]

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