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False arrest, racial profiling: Why the Citizen app is a threat to vulnerable communities

Policing and police violence are at the forefront of public conversation. Some in the tech industry think they can help transform policing with apps, but the results have so far been disastrous, especially with the Citizen app. In essence, Citizen encourages people to take the law into their own hands. It was once called Vigilante. Yes, Vigilante. And its backers didn’t give up when it was booted from Apple’s App Store for encouraging anyone who uses it to take often dangerous matters into their own hands (in other words, vigilantism). They just changed its name to Citizen.

Chances are you’ve heard of Citizen. It was the top-ranked news app in 2020, has more than 7 million users, and is available in at least 30 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, and the Bay Area.

Created by Spon Inc., Citizen bills itself as a “personal safety network that empowers you to protect yourself and the people and places you care about.” It offers COVID-19 contact tracing, access to real-time 911 alerts, instant help from crisis responders, and “safety tracking” for friends and families.

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