flash rob

Crowdsourcing Crime and Crime-sourcing

Perhaps it was Jane Jacobs’ “eyes on the street” concept lurking in my subconscious, or maybe it was Living Labs Globals’ mantra of avoiding re-inventing the wheel. For whatever reason, when I read this article sent over by a friend, I immediately thought, “how could this technology (that is designed around crowdsourcing live concerts) be used for cities?” What about crowdsourcing information about criminal activity? A quick Google search revealed that actually a lot has already been done on this topic in the US and abroad. Daily Crowdsource, a blog, points to 5 different solutions. Seattle’s uses Twitter to help people recover stolen cars. Ushahidi, “a non-profit tech company that develops free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping,” produced Hatari, a solution for the residents of Nairobi, Kenya to report not only incidents of crime but also corruption.


The usual caveats also apply here: anonymity leaves individuals unaccountable. The American business magazine Forbes Magazine has written on the topic. The article describes how crime doers have applied the fundamental principles of crowdsourcing to carry out large criminal operations. Sometimes they use print newspaper ads, sometimes they use the internet – eventually, they cobble together large groups of (sometimes unsuspecting) individuals who carry out small bits of larger crime tasks or cooperate in one large task (see “flash rob”).

So here we have it: good vs. evil once again. Developed as a legitimate method for capturing the value of the wisdom of the crowd, crowdsourcing has proven effective for both crime-fighters and crime-doers. As astutely noted by Marc Goodman writing for Forbes, the “victory will belong to whichever group proves itself capable of mobilizing the larger crowd.”

-          Terra Curtis