Goodbye, Citizen

Citizen is an app that bills itself as:

The most powerful safety app for today’s world. Download Citizen to feel safer at home or out, get real-time safety alerts and live video of incidents happening near you, updates on natural disasters or protests, and know if your loved ones are near a dangerous incident.

Google Play Store Description

And that all sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want to feel safe and informed? When I first downloaded the app a few years ago, it was pretty neat being able to see where crimes were taking place at the street level. It gave me a better idea of what areas to avoid and what time to avoid them. The data wasn’t complete, it wasn’t always accurate, and the user videos were usually pretty bad, but it felt more genuine than what I would see on the news. It added value to my day-to-day.

Then, Citizen tried to be more than I needed or wanted it to be. And it got invasive. During the pandemic, I started to get really wary of the Citizen app. It started adding a lot of features that went beyond its original purpose, like prompting for always on location tracking for friends and family members, COVID-19 symptom tracking, and background contact tracing. All of that sounds cute and useful on the surface, but who is Citizen and why should they be trusted with that much of my personal data? And even more important, does giving them that information add real value to my life?

Ultimately, the answer to that question was no. I thought about it for a while and realized that after an initial period of usefulness, my most common interaction with the Citizen app was swiping away notifications. Sometimes not even notifications about crimes, but notifications about the weather, protests, politics, and so much other random nonsense that I stopped even paying attention to them. I also realized that knowing about the crimes in my area with immediate notifications and spending a lot of time looking at and thinking about them wasn’t improving my mood or making me a better person. Instead, it was cultivating an atmosphere of fear.

I’m apparently not the only one that feels this way, though I took it further.

So, I deleted the app a few weeks ago. I realized today that I haven’t missed it at all. If I need to know what’s going on, I can check the news when I want to check the news, so that my mood and my day aren’t dictated by the notifications coming from an app.

I’ve been going through a process of decluttering and minimizing, and I’m adding apps and other digital clutter to the list. I’m getting rid of unused email addresses, deleting duplicate or old backups, consolidating where my data is stored, and moving anything I can to simpler hosting solutions so that I can free up my headspace for other things that are more important to me.

So far, it has been a worthwhile journey.

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