Apps That Blast Out Crime Alerts Don’t Have to Rattle You

My telephone not too long ago buzzed with an alarming notification: Police officers have been responding to a capturing a couple of mile away.

A couple of hours later, one other alert popped up, letting me know that two males have been preventing in an alleyway close by. Then my inbox loaded an e mail with a message neighbor had discovered a person making an attempt to break into his home.

The notifications arrived due to two apps I used to be utilizing: Nextdoor, a social community for neighbors, and Citizen, which delivers alerts on native crimes in progress. Both are among the many most downloaded information apps at the moment, in accordance to App Annie, the analysis agency.

They are additionally a part of a crop of apps that target maintaining individuals knowledgeable about their neighborhoods, a class that’s possible to develop. Last 12 months, as an illustration, Amazon acquired Ring, which makes a doorbell that doubles as a safety digicam. The retail big not too long ago posted a job itemizing for somebody to handle a crew of stories journalists who would write crime alerts for an app.

For Amazon, this may not be a bad thing, as it may help sell more Ring doorbells. But for the rest of us, a 30-day view may overstate what a neighborhood’s crime level looks like day to day.

So I recommend setting the filter on such apps to look at content posted over the last day only. When I changed that setting, the number of crime postings in my neighborhood dropped to zero. It was a useful reminder that the number of daily incidents is low.

A representative for Amazon’s Ring did not comment on the suggestion that the Neighbors app created the impression that a neighborhood was more dangerous in order to sell doorbells. However, the company noted that not everything posted to Neighbors was dangerous — people could also find information about lost pets and updates about street closings, for example.

Do you really need a constant update on crime news? Unless you work in law enforcement, the answer is probably not.

So treat crime news as you would any type of media: Check the apps when doing so may actually be productive and healthy. If crime news makes you stressful, don’t look at the apps late at night before bed. And disable the constant notifications and emails.

That’s what I did with the Citizen app. After using it for a day, I disabled notifications so that I couldn’t be alerted about every nearby crime in progress.

Instead, I checked the app only when it made the most sense. This week, when stopped at a red light, I saw two men fighting at a gas station. I clicked on the Citizen app, which showed that the altercation had already been reported to the police. So instead of pulling over and calling 911, I moved on.

Many people have a negative bias. We gravitate toward reading negative news stories, and when something bad happens, we are more likely to talk about it than when something good happens.

Keep that in mind when perusing neighborhood networking apps. The general news feed on Nextdoor shows an array of posts on topics like lost pets, used furniture for sale, a handyman’s offer of services and, occasionally, a crime.

The crime-related posts may be all you remember, but they are rare. Only 4 percent of posts on Nextdoor are related to crime and safety, said Sarah Friar, the company’s chief executive.

“If you spend more time in the overall feed and ask yourself, ‘What do I hear in here?’ — 96 percent of all the posts are about other things,” she said.

Because many of these neighborhood-watch apps are free, you have to wonder what they are doing with your data. When tech products cost you nothing, companies often make money in other ways, like sharing data about you with advertisers.

Nextdoor, for example, makes money from advertising. But the company builds in several privacy layers. Its privacy policy says it does not share personal data with advertisers. It also requires people to share their real names when using the app to help ensure that neighbors are who they say they are. And the app gives some control over the data you share, including the option to hide your address from neighbors.

Citizen was a different matter. I realized that when users sign up for the app, it required them to constantly share their location data. The company said sharing this data lets you receive real-time notifications for nearby crimes in progress. In a future software update, it said, the use of location data would allow it to send fewer and more relevant notifications to keep people safe and informed.

Users can later opt out of sharing their location if they decide to turn off notifications. But the company did not comment when I asked about why its opt-in approach to location sharing was so aggressive. So until Citizen changes its data collection practices, I plan to delete it.

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