Citizen is officially getting into the fear monetization game, with a paid service that might make you feel more secure.
On Tuesday, the crowdsourced public safety app launched Citizen Protect. The $ 19.99 / month service gives subscribers access to an on-demand protection agent, who they can call in if they think they need – or might need – emergency assistance. A Citizen spokesperson told Recode that the company sees Protect as a major part of the app’s path to profitability because it doesn’t sell ads or user information. Citizen built this platform, and now is the time to exploit it.
It’s a logical progression for Citizen – who has spent the past few years alerting users to crime, fires, and car crashes in their neighborhood – to offer a service that protects users or provides rapid emergency services. response to these same types of incidents. But Citizen may not have a reputation for success. The app was controversial from the start, accused of promoting self-defense and voyeurism in disaster situations. There was even a participatory manhunt for an innocent man just a few months ago, which was reportedly led by the CEO of the app.
Here’s how Protect works: Subscribers can be directly connected to a Protect agent by tapping Get Agent in their app, or they can swipe to activate Protect mode. Protection mode comes with distress detection, where Citizen’s AI listens through its microphone for obvious distress sounds (shouts), then asks if they want to be connected to an agent (or automatically connects them if they don’t respond. quickly); or they can use the “Shake for Agent” option, where they are discreetly connected to an agent via text or audio / video chat if they shake their phone multiple times.
Once you are connected to a Protect agent, they can monitor your audio and video, send emergency responders to your location if needed, alert your family contacts and designated friends, direct you to the nearest safe space or create a public incident to be notified. Users near Citizen should be on the lookout for things like lost pets or missing persons. Protected Mode is currently available for iOS devices and is only in English.
Citizen has been testing Protect for several months, making it available to a group of nearly 100,000 beta testers. The company now believes it is ready to grow and offer Protect to its millions of users – or more, since the service is available all over the United States, not just in the 60 cities in which Citizen currently operates. .
Protect is similar to the services provided by some home security systems, OnStar Automotive Security Service, or Life Alert. All these subscription services offer on-call protection in specific circumstances: burglaries, fires, car accidents, breakdowns, medical emergencies. But Protect can be used wherever you go with your phone (assuming you have cell reception) and it can be used as a kind of digital bodyguard to watch over you if you find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. It is able to detect your precise position in real time, which some 911 services still can’t do. However, Protect is not a substitute for 911. In an emergency, call 911.
If you are a Citizen app user, you might feel particularly inclined to shell out $ 20 per month for that extra sense of security, as Citizen has made you especially aware that you might need it. The app uses technology and humans to eliminate calls to 911. Its human moderators review them and choose which to ignore and which to put on a map for users to see, sending push alerts to users when events like fires, car crashes and crimes are happening in their area. Users can provide photos, videos, and live broadcasts of the scene – and other users can view, watch, and comment on them.
If you have the Citizen app, you’ve probably never known how many scary things are happening in your neighborhood so much, although they might not be as scary as the app makes it seem. Just because someone called 911 to report that they heard gunshots does not mean that the gunshots actually took place. But if you’ve seen that initial Citizen report, you might assume your neighborhood is being shot down. And then, you might be more likely to think that the security service provided by Protect is worth it.
But it also means placing a lot of trust in Citizen, and many would say he didn’t earn that trust. The app has been controversial since its inception under the name Vigilante, an app that has been banned from the Apple App Store shortly after its launch in 2016. In 2017, it relaunch as a citizen, with the 911 scratch-off feature still in place but without the self-report feature that many feared targeting minorities or the homeless who appeared ‘suspect’. The functionality has since his return, but Citizen says community reported incidents are reviewed by moderators before they are placed on the map. “Suspicious Person” reports are not placed on the map.
Citizen’s more recent attempts to move from a social network of emergency alert voyeurism to a more proactive security service have not gone smoothly. A pilot program to provide private security guards on demand – Citizen Protect’s digital bodyguard upgrade to a very real one – has been widely criticized as providing a service to the wealthy that could be used as a weapon against low-income people and minorities. It seems to have fizzled out for the moment. A week ago, reports emerged that Citizen is paying “field members” in some cities to go out and broadcast live events, apparently to supplement what Citizen users already provide for free and to attract more attention to more emergencies.
Perhaps most disturbing, Citizen’s new OnAir feature, which provides real-time updates and analysis of selected events with human hosts, basically put a bonus of $ 30,000 over the head of a man they falsely identified as an “arson suspect”, launching a participatory manhunt for an innocent person. Much of this apparently comes from the top: Andrew Frame, CEO of Citizen has been reported to be particularly aggressive, telling employees in the company’s Slack room that he wanted to “FIND THIS FUCK” and that “we hate him”, while ordering frequent notifications about his research to be sent to the 850 or so 000 Citizen users in Los Angeles.
Citizen says its protection officers have gone through a rigorous training program, including a four-week certification course. But OnAir hosts also reportedly had standards and training, which were either insufficient or ignored when they believed they could mobilize Citizen users to hunt down a man they believed to be an arsonist.
This controversy does not appear to have hurt Citizen’s popularity with its users, however. It jumped to the top of the app store charts last summer during the mass protests, more $ 130 million in funding, and has just announced that it has reached 8 million users. Now is the time to start cashing in and see if the spooky world Citizen helped create pays off.