Vigilante App: Boon to Transparency or Harassment?

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It’s hard to tell whether the Vigilante app is a functioning business or a teaser for a new episode of dystopian sci-fi series Black Mirror, The Guardian reports. Launched in New York last week, it’s designed to alert nearby users whenever a crime is reported to 911. Users can use that information to avoid the danger area, or go and film it with their smartphone to broadcast the unfolding crime. “What if everyone within a quarter mile of every reported crime were immediately made aware of it. What if there were a camera on every crime. What if transparency existed – if we all knew where crime was occurring and how it was being resolved. Would crime as we know it still exist?” asks the company in a post announcing the app’s launch.

The app, created by a company called Sp0n (its sparse website says it makes “disruptive consumer mobile apps”) was swiftly kicked off the App Store by Apple, which had “concerns” about its content. The developers believe that opening up crime reporting in this way empowers people. “The closed system excludes the community while the open system informs and empowers citizens,” it says. At the heart of Vigilante is the belief that mass surveillance makes the world a better, fairer place through the rhetorical question: can injustice survive transparency? On the one hand. Vigilante talks about restoring trust between law enforcement and the community, which suggests that video streaming could help document and prevent police brutality. On the other hand, it’s precisely the kind of tool that could be abused to intimidate and harass innocent minorities with the kind of racial profiling that became rampant on the Nextdoor app.

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