Citizen, the extremely dubious rebranding of Vigilante—an app which notifies users of 911 reports near them and encourages them to go out and shoot videos of the crimes and their aftermath—has somehow managed to acquire a new round of eight-figure funding.
Per Government Technology, Citizen has raised $12.2 million — around £9 million — in Series A funding from 32 investors, adding to a seed round of $3 million (£2.2 million), and expanded from its first test market in New York to an additional venture in San Francisco.
Image: Screengrab via Gizmodo
That’s despite the fact Citizen’s functionality is somehow generating alerts on recent 911 calls—the company has not explained how—placing those alerts on a map, and encouraging users to get out there and shoot videos of the crime, all while winkingly telling them not to get directly involved. It’s something which has no clear path to demonetisation, but does run the risk of sending rubberneckers to get themselves whacked.
Citizen now markets itself as a service for people to avoid crime scenes, but when it was known as Vigilante, it said its mission was to crowdsource the idea of 911. The company also released a promotional video making it fairly clear the intent was to attract actual vigilantes to document said crime scenes.
In the video, Vigilante showed footage of a man reading a report of a suspicious man following a woman nearby.
“Don’t interfere with the crime,” the video says. “Keep a safe distance. Good luck out there!”
The video then showed the Vigilante user promptly violating both of those guidelines, rushing to the scene and pointing a camera at the attacker from, like, five feet away.
“Can injustice survive transparency?” the video then asked.
No wonder it was then booted off Apple’s App Store shortly after Gizmodo reported the app’s potential to cause harm, as well as the NYPD’s warning not to engage in this sort of behavior. Its intended user base was essentially Travis Bickle.
Not much seems to have changed under its new title of Citizen other than the new branding. One feature which allowed users to report crimes in progress directly has been removed on a version of the app obtained by Gizmodo.
Nothing has changed about Citizen’s core inspiration, which seems to be that empowering random members of the public to engage in mass surveillance is a good thing. Just note that putting yourself at risk will not entitle you to a slice of that £9 million.
We’ve reached out to Citizen for comment, and will update this post if we hear back. [Government Technology]