This morning, The Verge published a story about how Citizen — an app that appears to encourage vigilante justice — encouraged its users to hunt down the wrong person and presumably bring them to justice, in the mistaken assumption that person had started the 1,158-acre Palisades wildfire in Los Angeles last week. The company offered a $30,000 bounty.
Now, we’re learning the same company is apparently planning to offer its own private security forces to users, according to a new report from Motherboard.
In fact, one Citizen-branded patrol car has already been spotted in the wild:
Motherboard’s report goes further than that, though, digging through internal documents and speaking to former employees who describe a “privatized secondary emergency response network” that would respond to an app user’s request. So far, Citizen appears to have been contracting that work out, both to well-known private security provider Securitas and — in the picture above — Los Angeles Professional Security.
Citizen confirmed to Motherboard that it was at least internally testing a “personal rapid response service,” suggesting it might be as simple as an escort service users would summon if they’re afraid to walk home late at night.
But the app’s history — originally launched as Vigilante in 2016 — not to mention the idea that this company is apparently willing to encourage its users to hunt down suspects for money, suggest that this move could be... a little problematic?
Social networks and apps like Nextdoor and Amazon’s Ring Neighbors have already been roundly criticized for preying on people’s fears, encouraging them to report on suspicious activity in their neighborhood, normalizing surveillance, and unfairly targeting their neighbors based on their racial biases. Combine that with a company that might encourage users to take justice into their own hands, and that seems not great.