New York (CNN Business) – The next time you’re walking alone at night or meeting a stranger for a date, this company wants to listen to your interactions, for your safety. Citizen, an app known and sometimes criticized for sending out real-time alerts on crimes and emergencies that can make users nervous, launched a paid private security product called Protect on Tuesday.
For US $ 19.99 per month, a subscriber can connect 24 hours a day with Protect agents through the Citizen app via text or video chat, or by shaking their phone or yelling, if those features they are enabled through “Protect Mode”, a feature currently only available on iOS devices.
Protect agents can then alert 911 or the person’s emergency contacts to the situation. They can also help in a variety of other scenarios, Citizen said, such as guiding a person to a nearby cooling station during a heat wave, keeping an eye on someone on a first date or a night walk for peace of mind, or issuing an alert about a loved one or a lost pet, among other use cases. (These agents are employees, according to Citizen. It did not want to say how many it has on staff.)
“Citizen is now a two-way system with the launch of Protect. When you need help, you can use Citizen to get it,” Citizen CEO Andrew Frame said in an interview last week with a Zoom background that included the words “Do of your world a safer place. “
“I find it fascinating that when you want a burrito, there are 10 different apps on your phone that can get you that burrito ASAP,” Frame said. “When someone walks into your home or you need help, you are forced to rely on a 911 system that was actually built in the 1960s,” he added.
Citizen, an app with controversy
While Citizen is positioning Protect as complementary and supplementary to existing public emergency response systems, the startup has not always stayed in place, or been clear about its operation.
Citizen originally launched in 2016 under the name “Vigilante”, but was quickly removed from Apple’s App Store after security forces they will criticize her for encouraging people to rush to crime scenes to document them. In 2017, it was relaunched as Citizen and downplayed the role of civilians in finding and reporting incidents. However, it has continued to cause controversy.
In May, for example, Citizen offered a $ 30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspected arson suspect, but later said he mistakenly identified the person.
The company used a new application product called OnAir to spread the word. But it said it had not followed its own verification protocols before circulating it.
Soon after, Citizen confirmed that it had been testing a body of on-demand security with some of your employees after Vice News reported for the first time on a company-branded patrol car in Los Angeles. The company said that although its pilot program It had ended and it would not launch its own private security force in the future, it would not rule out alliances with other companies for the same purpose.
(Frame said that despite recent headlines, there was no hesitation in going ahead with his latest offering. “We have always been convinced of the need for Protect. None of our product development plans have been constrained by the press. “, he claimed).
Protect, your new bet
What previously reported by CNN Business, the company has been testing Protect internally since last summer. Citizen states that more than 100,000 people have tried the product and, according to a Citizen spokesperson, it has “received positive encouragement from police departments and public safety response points (PSAPs), or 911 call centers, in cities where Citizen is currently available. “
However, Frame acknowledged that there are times when Protect should not be the first line of defense. “There may be a specific situation where you have to call 911 directly,” he said, although he noted that “911 does not help in many situations.”
“It’s basically like, ‘Has a crime happened? So call 911,'” Frame said. “There are many more situations in which your Protect agent can help you,” he explained.
Citizen Protect is available anywhere, according to the company, not just in the roughly 60 cities where the company offers real-time crime alerts.
When asked if the company had worked with emergency personnel or had consulted experts about Protect, Frame said: “We have talked a lot with experts about this and consult them regularly.” Meanwhile, when asked if he could name any of the experts or companies involved, he replied: “The former commissioner of the New York Police Department is on the administrative board, [William] Bratton”.
The spokesperson said Protect officers “go through a rigorous training program, which includes a four-week Public Safety Telecom certification course.”
Some outside observers have raised concerns that the company sends anxiety-inducing messages about crime and then sell users on security. But Frame rejected the idea of any potential conflict.
In an emailed statement, Frame said: “Anyone who comes to that conclusion does not know how Citizen works. Our North Star has always been to bring transparency to the 911 system. And we measure success by the people we serve. we help thanks to our technology. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism