Controversial crime alert app Citizen has opened up its $20-a-month subscription service to everyone in the US. The Protect plan, which almost 100,000 users have beta tested, offers around-the-clock access to "Citizen’s team of highly trained Protect Agents," CEO Andrew Frame wrote in a blog post.
Those agents can call 911 for you if you're in a situation in which contacting emergency services directly might not be safe. "If you share your location with Citizen Protect, Agents can live monitor your location, provide first responders, and help them arrive more quickly by guiding them to your exact location," Frame wrote. "Protect Agents will always continue to monitor you while you wait for help to arrive."
The agents can notify your emergency contacts and keep them updated if you're in trouble. Frame said they can also guide you to a safe place or help nearby when needed, or chat with you for peace of mind. The service can also alert other Citizen users in the area if your scenario warrants doing so. "Harnessing the power of Citizen’s safety network through Protect-generated alerts has helped dozens of families reunite with their missing loved ones and pets," Frame wrote.
Users can connect to a Protect agent and chat via video, audio or text after tapping a button on the Citizen app's home screen. The iOS version of the app includes an optional Protect Mode, which offers other ways to link up with an agent (Citizen plans to bring "additional functionality" to Android soon). You can switch on a feature that displays a prompt to connect to an agent when you shake your device a couple of times.
If you opt to use the Distress Detection feature, Citizen will monitor your device's audio with "AI-powered technology which identifies sounds that indicate trouble, like a scream for example." If the app picks up an audible distress signal, it'll ask if you'd like to be connected to an agent. If 10 seconds pass without you responding to the prompt, Citizen will connect you to an agent automatically.
Citizen started out in 2016 as an app called Vigilante that aimed to alert users about crimes and emergencies. Apple swiftly kicked it from the App Store over vigilantism concerns. Vigilante was rebranded a few months later with a deeper focus on safety.
The app hit headlines again in May, when Citizen offered a $30,000 reward for information that led to the arrest of a person who it claimed started a wildfire. Citizen identified the wrong person, and police arrested someone else in connection with the alleged crime.
The same month, a Citizen-branded security vehicle was spotted in Los Angeles amid reports that the company was testing an on-demand private security force. The company later said it wouldn't start its own such service, but it didn't rule out partnerships with private security companies.
Having swift access to support agents isn't inherently a bad idea, but Citizen's history might dissuade some from taking out a Protect subscription. It's worth noting there are other ways to discreetly call 911 and send a message with location updates to your emergency contacts, such as the iPhone's Emergency SOS function.