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Controversial iOS App Vigilante Wants to Put 'A Camera on Every Crime'

What if there were a camera on every crime?

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Just days after its debut in the iOS App Store last week, crime-tracking app Vigilante has been pulled by Apple due to “concerns” about its content. The app, which is currently limited to New York, will notify its users of any 911 calls placed in their immediate area, allowing them to avoid an area where a crime might be taking place. But, as suggested by the app's name, users could also go to where the crime is, to record it on their phone or otherwise get involved.

“What if everyone within a quarter mile of every reported crime were immediately made aware of it,” Sp0n, the company that developed the app, asked. “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?”

“The lens of the camera is incapable of lying,” the company wrote. “Transparency is the single most powerful tool against crime and injustice, and we believe it will rebuild cooperation towards a shared vision. Cooperation, in turn, will lead to safer communities, better cities, and a stronger nation.”

Apple is not alone in their concerns over the idea of using mass surveillance to control crime. Sam Gregory, program director for Witness, a company that supports activists who document human rights violations, said that Vigilante “raises all these questions around consent and sharing. Vigilantism is a very different idea to being an ethical witness to what’s happening.” The NYPD have agreed, asserting that “crimes in progress should be handled by the NYPD and not a vigilante with a cell phone.”

While filming every crime could help document police brutality, videos of violence against minority groups have been used to promote further violence. For example. research has found that videos of violence against transgender victims have been shared as entertainment online. “These types of tools tend to have racial bias and only focus on very visible incidents,” Gregory noted. “There’s a tradeoff between visibility of a crime and making people who didn’t want to be on camera into a public spectacle.”

The app has been pulled from the iOS App Store over these concerns, but a spokeswoman from Sp0n has said that the company “is working with Apple to resolve the issue and they are confident the app will be made available in the near future. Vigilante will introduce an Android version of the app in the upcoming weeks with plans to expand in additional cities later this year.”

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