“Fuck snitches, fuck Citizen, fuck Andrew Frame and remember, kids: Cops are not your friends!” This is what people are writing on the dark web about the Citizen Crime App. The people who so colorfully wrote this are also the ones claiming to have scraped and leaked data from Citizin, a crime reporting app. The data should include information about 1.5 million + safety “incidents” which have been recorded and cataloged by the company that is responsible for the Citizin app.
Before there was Citizen, there was Vigilante, founded by Andrew Frame, formerly of the internet-based phone company Ooma. Vigilante related with a less of an emphasis on what it might get you into, and a bit more on what it might let you avoid. Mr. Frame the showily portrayed CEO of Citizen serves as a “real-time public notification system”, notifying the apps users to criminal activity in and around their current location. The app does so based on police scanner information and user submitted crime queries. Citizen has raised quite the commotion when they recently announced its plan to launch its own app-based privatized law enforcement service, effectively becoming Omni Consumer Products as we know from the Robocop movies.
The hacker who leaked the data to a website called “The Concerned Citizen’s Citizen Hack” and claiming himself to be a “hacktivist” is planning to become a dystopian Hollywood villain in Robocop 4 from the looks of it. On his website viewers can search for all of the leaked information including; incident GPS location data, associated police radio audio files, images, event history, and more. It shows us a bare and accumulative look at the large amounts of privatised data the company has managed to collect and how they actually store and deal with this data. It’s important to realise that this data directly correlates with the public safety concerns the company claimed to help solve.
The company has had it obstacles to overcome recently though as they went through a line of different data problems. One example of this was the CEO of Citizen wrongfully blaming a L.A. homeless man for starting wildfires. A few days ago a report from Motherboard revealed that Citizen had exposed user data to the public that it had collected via the apps covid-19 tracing feature. The company did patch the hole but as we can see, where one closes, another opens up.
Even though the self-proclaimed “hacktivist” qualified the leak as a hack, it isn’t really a hack per se. Much of the data was already accessible to the the public through several of the apps features. It’s more like the other incidents in which user data is scraped and made public, data that should have stayed accessible only via the Citizen app. Much like the Facebook or LinkedIn incident where “hackers”come into play, scrape data and share it on the Darknet.
Motherboard’s report did show that the data can be easily used by “journalists and researchers to gain greater insight into the use and spread of the app around the country”. Citizen claims to have over 7 million subscribers and it is used is the US’s largest cities. More information on how it’s used could be a welcome change.
The “hacktivist” told media outlets that “It’s like a full log of police activity in multiple U.S. cities,”. He suggested the information can be use to understand how the app is used and what kind of impact it actually has on crime rates, if any at all.
New York had over 520,000; Los Angeles over 250,000, Philadelphia nearly 120,000. The data also shows Citizen’s use in other cities across the country, including Austin, Atlanta, Dallas, Portland, and Flint. The hacker said the New York scrape dates from January 2018 to May 2021.
Citizen was asked to respond to this “hack” but a spokesperson of the company simply called it a “non-story” and said:
All of this information is publicly available on our website at citizen.com/explore. Our users broadcast these videos to the Citizen community to keep their neighbors safe and informed. Newsrooms across the country use these videos in their broadcasts daily. We are proud of the fact that we moderate every piece of user-generated content on our platform, and our team of moderators work around the clock to hide videos which do not meet our guidelines.
Basically just trying to steer away from the fact that people might think their lives are being controlled. Either way, that’s the best we got from Citizen.