Citizen, the app which tracks down local crime and lets you film incidents as they happen, has launched a new subscription service. It’s called Protect, and allows users who pay the $ 20 monthly fee to contact Citizen’s team of virtual security guards for help whenever they feel threatened.
Tuesday’s update marks a significant change in Citizen’s business, which until now has been to send its users free smartphone alerts about nearby crimes and incidents. With this paid service, the company is not only taking a step forward in actively monitoring the security of users who pay the monthly fees, it is also expanding a service that privacy advocates have repeatedly decried as overkill.
Protect works as a Life Alert button for your phone. If you’re in danger the pitch goes, just hit the red “Get Agent” button in the Citizen app, and you’ll be connected to a video or text chat with a Protect agent. If you need assistance at the scene, the officer can call the police or other emergency services and guide them to your location. If you have emergency contacts who also have the Citizen app installed, an agent can contact those people in case you are incapacitated or just too busy handling your emergency to contact you on your own.
The feature has only been available to select beta testers since early 2021, and today it’s rolled out in an app update so that any Citizen user can sign up.
The new version of the app can even listen to your screams. A feature available to subscribers called Distress Detection uses an algorithm to monitor your mobile phone’s microphone for sounds that “indicate a problem,” according to the company. Citizen cites a human cry as an example. The distress detection feature is only available on iOS at this time, although Citizen says it plans to expand the feature to other devices in the future.
“We are really evolving the public safety system and using technology to overload it,” said Andrew Frame, CEO of Citizen.
Citizen says about 100,000 users have tried the service in beta. Last week Citizen provided me with a free trial of the Protect service. During my week of testing it worked as promised. By tapping the Get Agent button at the bottom of the home screen, I had the option of contacting a Protect agent via video chat or text chat. In one of my tests, I connected to a Protect agent identified as Agent Aaron, who told me he could see my device’s location, battery level, and movement speed. – zero, since I was motionless. The agent also said that if I synced Protect with an Apple Watch, he would be able to see my heart rate. This extra layer of data would likely let them know if I was panicking or exercising physically. (Citizen says he’s not commenting on health sensor functionality at this time.)
On iOS, a setting called Protection Mode opens access to the phone’s microphone to enable the aforementioned scream alerts. It also unlocks a gesture option that lets you shake the phone to text an agent. They both worked when I tested them, although it took a few screams for the app to send an alert. In practice, Citizen agents can then call emergency responders and inform them of the location of your phone. If there is an official response, Citizen will also create a public alert for the incident that will notify nearby Citizen users.
Help on the way
Protect is Citizen’s first subscription offering, and a paid product of any kind is long overdue. The company has sucked in venture capital funds since it has begun in 2016, when only make allusion to to his plans to eventually build a profitable business. In early 2020, Frame said that Citizen planned to monetize This year. (“The VCs said they weren’t going to keep funding this until you figure it out,” Frame told me last year.) The pandemic may have destabilized this timeline a bit, but the the company’s lack of profitability does not seem to have confused investors. $ 50 million this year only in a Series C funding round.
Now, after a few months of beta testing, Protect is available to all 8 million Citizen users. But it’s not clear whether customers will adopt a paid service offered by one of the more controversial tech companies.