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Alissa Walker
+ Your AuthorsArchive @awalkerinLA I'm a writer and a walker in LA. Words @Curbed/@NYMag. Co-host @theLApod. LAUSD mom. #CancelRent #HomesGuarantee #BetterBusesforLA Sep. 10, 2020 1 min read

The mayor of LA just announced that the city's COVID-19 contract tracing program is being done in partnership with Citizen. If you don't know what Citizen is, you probably don't want to! But here's a short thread.

Citizen started as a "crime tracker" named Vigilante but it was immediately removed from the app store for "concerns centered around user safety"—namely, that it would encourage, yes, vigilantism. 

The app, which, at the time, aggregated both 911 calls and user-reported "crimes," including streaming live video, rebranded—and got $12 million in funding.

“The name has changed, but the mission has not,” said founder Andrew Frame. 

You know the next part of the story. Citizen joins apps like Nextdoor and Amazon Ring which promote bias and racism—all while these companies work closely in concert with police departments. 

Citizen has tried very hard to convince people that it's like listening to a police scanner, calling it "empowering."

But the app would encourage people who were near reported incidents to go out document potential "crimes" in-progress. 

The "crime" reporting feature was temporarily removed after concerns about privacy, including how the app tracked and stored location-based data. Which seems extremely cool and normal for a company doing something very personal like contract tracing! 

To get a sense of what Citizen is all about, first watch this ad that the company produced when it was still named Vigilante—remember, the name has changed, but the "mission" is the same.

"There's a man following me... he's wearing a hoodie." 

And just for fun, how about this totes adorable basketball game that Citizen set up with... the NYPD.

"We’re trying to humanize the app and trying to humanize the NYPD,” said Citizen community manager Dennis Prince Mapp. 

Citizen made a contact-tracing application it tried to sell to cities but no one wanted to use it.

However, this story says the app has enough users in LA—about 1 million—to simply turn on the contact-tracing system it already built and see what happens. 

What could go wrong?

Here's today's announcement and a link to the release, I'm sure they're eager to hear your thoughts. 

You can follow @awalkerinLA.


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