Neighborhood crime-fighting app Citizen tries to expand to Ukraine


Image: ARIS MESSINIS/Contributor

Crime-fighting and neighborhood alert app Citizen is looking to expand into Ukraine as Russia continues to invade the country, Motherboard has learned. Citizen told employees it was partnering with broadcaster CBS on the move, with CBS correspondents providing on-the-ground footage to Citizen, which will then create an ‘incident’ in the Citizen app, according to an email. Citizen internal report obtained by Motherboard. CBS told Motherboard there was no partnership.

“We brainstormed and gathered ideas on how to use our platform safely during this heartbreaking crisis in Ukraine,” reads Citizen’s internal email, using the deprecated Soviet reference for Ukraine. “Our mission is to protect the world, and in times like these, we need to be creative about how our technology can achieve that.”

The plan illustrates the company’s penchant for pushing itself into situations beyond its stated remit, and how Citizen now apparently sees itself not just as a tool for alerting people to crime, but also incidents at home. internationally and during war. As Motherboard has already reported, the app’s push notifications can sometimes overwhelm users, and former employees say they’re designed to increase engagement and encourage users to sign up for paid services. Now Citizen is looking to take that app, in a different form, to a war zone.

The move also raises questions about why CBS, a respected news organization, would hold discussions with an app that previously directly encouraged vigilantism. A CBS News spokesperson told Motherboard in an emailed statement that “there were discussions, but ultimately they did not materialize.”

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Usually, Citizen has workers who listen to police radio scanners who digest and then write push alerts summarizing the situation. The company also offers Protecta paid subscription service where users can have a Citizen employee track their location and call emergency services on their behalf if needed.

Citizen’s plan for Ukraine is different from how it works elsewhere, where app users can save and post their own content. His collaboration plan with CBS was also quite detailed. The email explains that CBS correspondents on the ground in Ukraine would record eyewitness accounts every other day and provide them to Citizen.

“Once we obtain the images, we will title them accordingly, add a brief summary of the incident and decide how we want to target distribution and inform our users,” the email adds. “At this time, these images will be low-frequency and we have directly indicated to CBS correspondents that we do not want graphic or overly disturbing visuals.”

It’s unclear how Citizen will move forward without CBS. A spokesperson for Citizen acknowledged a request for comment but did not provide a statement.

Citizen sits midway between a public awareness or security app and a startup driven by metrics and revenue like any other. The friction inherent in this dichotomy has led to some highly controversial decisions by the company. Last year, Citizen released the name and photograph of an innocent man it suspected of being linked to arson and put a $30,000 bounty on information leading to his arrest. under the leadership of company CEO Andrew Frame. In internal Slack messages leaked to Motherboard, Frame said the move could increase the number of app users. The recently leaked email suggests that Frame is also involved in this latest planned expansion into Ukraine.

Moving to a Warzone would be a dramatic expansion of Citizen’s reach. But the company has already explored similar steps. A source with knowledge of the company said Citizen was considering doing something similar in Afghanistan.

“There was talk of rolling out the Citizen app and tracking the movements of the Taliban, somehow integrating Protect, mercenaries, a lot of crazy stuff was going around,” the source said. Motherboard granted the source anonymity as she was not authorized to speak to the press.

Last year, the motherboard reported that Citizen tested an on-demand private security force in Los Angeles.

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