Citizen, the controversial crime-reporting app formerly known as Vigilante, has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. It doxxed singer Billie Eilish on Thursday evening, publishing her address to thousands of people following an alleged burglary at her home.
The app notified users of a break-in in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood, including the address, shortly after the break-in. According to Vice, at 9:41 p.m., the Citizen’s message was updated to state that the house belonged to Eilish.
The alert was sent to 178,000 people and viewed by nearly 78,000, according to Citizen’s metrics. Citizen updated the app’s description of the incident on Friday morning, replacing the precise address with a nearby cross-street.
Although celebrity home addresses are frequently made public (usually on seedy websites specializing in such invasive nonsense), a popular app distributing one of pop music’s biggest stars’ home address to thousands of users is… novel.
Unfortunately, it is also Citizen’s latest potentially destructive move. When Citizen was released as Vigilante in 2016, Apple quickly removed the title from the App Store due to concerns that it encouraged users to put themselves in danger.
As a result, it rebranded as Citizen with a new emphasis on safety, and Apple reopened its doors. The app began advising users to avoid ongoing incidents while also providing tools to assist those who find themselves in a dangerous situation.
Although that appears to be the case, at least one episode reveals a company that is overzealous in its pursuit of attention and profit over social responsibility.
CEO Andrew Frame ordered the launch of a live stream in May 2021, encouraging app users to track down a suspected wildfire arsonist (based on a tip from an LAPD sergeant and emails from residents questioned by police).
He offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect, which was later increased to $30,000 later in the evening. The CEO reportedly became more frantic as the hunt progressed, with one of his internal Slack conversations encouraging the team to “get this guy before midnight” in an ecstatic, all-caps message.
When a staffer warned the team about violating the app’s terms of service, which prohibit “posting of specific information that could identify parties involved in an incident,” they were ignored in a Slack chat.
When police announced that night that they had made an arrest, the team rejoiced, believing that their frantic search for notoriety had resulted in the capture. The only issue? Citizen had the wrong person.
Frame placed a public bounty on a wrongfully accused suspect in his apparent eagerness to legitimize the app’s purpose with a high-profile citizen arrest.