Controversial crime app Citizen launches $20/month Protect service

After months of testing with upwards of 100,000 beta testers, Citizen today is launching its premium Protect offering for all users. The subscription service runs $20 a month and opens up a number of features on the app.

Chief among the new paid features is a “Get Agent” button, which offers access to a Citizen operator for a number of different scenarios. The company says it exists for instances where a user “may not want to be seen calling 911.” Whether that’s a matter of personal safety or other issues around calling the police no doubt depends on both the user and situation. The agents effectively work as a conduit to emergency operators.

For many, Citizen’s various controversies have overshadowed its features in recent years. Initially after its launch as “Vigilante,” the app made news earlier this year for launching a private “personal rapid response service” fleet of vehicles and a reward for a person wrongly accused of starting a Los Angeles wildfire.

“Our Protect Agents are highly trained safety experts who are equipped to help in a variety of stressful or uncertain situations,” the company write about the new service. “They personalize your experience to your situation. They can escalate to 911, provide first responders with your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, navigate you to a safe location or simply stay connected with you and monitor you until you feel safe again.”

The other key feature here is a new Protect Mode, which again, offers quick access to the aforementioned agent. When enabled in a questionable situation, the app will live monitor the user’s audio feed, using AI to detect for things like screams, offering up a connection to the agent. If you don’t respond, it will auto connect you. Users can also shake the phone twice to access the agent directly.

A recent job listing notes:

In this role, you will be communicating with users who are in need of assistance in potentially unsafe conditions. You will be responsible for guiding difficult conversations and using your best judgement in determining the severity of these situations in real-time. You will be at the frontlines of helping users who feel unsafe in their surroundings and offer direct assistance and escalation to 911.

It’s a potentially useful service for those looking for a panic button app of sorts — akin to an offering like Noonlight. But the question remains whether Citizen is the service best positioned to provide such an offering, given the red flags in its history.

Launched in 2016, the app was initially banned from the App Store over concerns about vigilantism (perhaps not a stretch, given its original name/positioning). As it has expanded beyond New York, the rebranded app has continued to raise flags on a national level.

Earlier this year, its crime-spotting crowdsourcing was expanded to include branded vehicles, which patrolled Los Angeles. “The broad master plan was to create a privatized secondary emergency response network,” a source told Motherboard at the time. The company later added that it had no plans to extend the service after its initial pilot.

That same month, the service’s CEO offered a $30,000 reward for someone suspected of starting a Los Angeles wildfire. The service later apologized for sending out a photo of the wrong person that raked in more than 800,000 views. “We deeply regret our mistake and are working to improve our internal processes to prevent this from happening again,” the company wrote in a statement.

Citizen is currently available in 20 U.S. cities. The new Protect Mode service launches today for iOS. An Android version is in the works.