By Allison Markman
New York City, New York
The Citizen app is “a personal safety network that empowers you to protect yourself and the people and places you care about,” according to its founder Andrew Frame. The app sends alerts to its users about situations around their location.
The app was originally called ‘Vigilante’ and critics claim that the app does not create public safety but rather instills fear in users in addition to promoting racial profiling and bias. Personally, I have used the app in the past, but since I deleted it from my phone. I, too, found that rather than making me feel safer navigating a city such as New York, it furthers my own paranoia. It is as if the creators of the citizen app see violence and crime as an opportunity for users to spend more time on the app, as opposed to truly caring about the well-being of the ‘citizens’.
One famous example of the app working to promote its own best interests was when Frame personally offered a $30,000 reward for individuals to provide information that led to the arrest of a suspect accused of igniting a wildfire. The stream received over one million views and caused the wrongful identification of a homeless man.
“Why does Andrew Frame get to decide to put a bounty on anyone’s head?” one former employee of the Citizen app questioned.
Citizen allows people to take policing and surveillance into their own hands, in this case by rewarding it. In a society where privacy is a constitutional right, and this type of surveillance often leads to racial bias and seldom leads to justice, these apps further exacerbate some of the greatest problems in our communities, such as inherent biases.
Through its ability for users to report crimes, the app opens itself up to the false reporting and racial bias that is a widespread epidemic within policing. This feature was originally removed from the app, leaving it to rely solely on 911 calls and police scanners; however, it was reintroduced with few regulations to address its issues; they eliminated “suspicious person reports.”
The app also encouraged people to confront violent occurrences. For example, if I were witness to an assault, the app encourages its users to live stream or film the event. Though this may be beneficial to those in the vicinity of the event who now know to stay away, the app has little regard for the individuals risking their lives to film.
From my personal experience, knowing that someone is being stabbed half a mile away from me does not make me feel any safer. Truly ordinary people should not try to intervene in a dangerous situation because we do not have the proper training, and attempting to intervene could cost more lives.
NBC spoke with former employees of the app to fund that the company often takes action with little thought for potential consequences. Further, they concluded that its goal is not to promote safety but rather to attract more users.
To conclude, this app does the complete opposite of its stated goals, as well as historically having dangerous faults such as surveillance which can lead to racial profiling. By occasionally empowering people to livestream dangerous events, they stake the lives of its users in exchange for views. Therefore, I deleted the app, and urge you all to as well.