TECH ETHICS UPDATES: The Citizen App

Here’s the first news story that popped up in our feed today on an app we’ve long known in problematic.

The Citizen App (2018 List)
Citizen was so controversial when it came out that it went through a huge rebranding to make it look less like a tool for vigilantes. But it never stopped giving real-time crime alerts to anyone who wanted access. Different from a police scanner, it provided detailed location information in the name of public safety.

New: Citizen for contact tracing

Now it’s being used for contact tracing for COVID-19. And while contact tracing is vital for public health, we need to ask: If the technology is problematic (and you can click here on the questions we had about it to begin with), can we simply “repurpose it” for “good”? They have the infrastructure the city of Los Angeles needs right now, but can we trust it to lead to good outcomes?

In an article from September 11, 2020, the L.A. Times lays it out for us:
“…L.A. leaders are betting that any additional contact tracing helps — even if that help comes from a tech company whose approach to public safety has often come under fire.”
“L.A. has a new COVID-19 contact tracing app, from a controversial source”(L.A. Times, 2020)

What do you think? Playing with fire or a good investment in public health?


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