Whereas Citizen previously told Motherboard that laid off Citizen employees received “a generous severance package”, that severance does not extend to the contract workers, multiple sources said. Two sources said workers from CloudFactory, the contracting firm, were paid between $1.50 and $2 an hour.“That’s what being from a third country means I guess. It wasn’t much but it was more than what we would get here, so it was okay. But again, not enough for the work we used to put in,” one source said. Motherboard provided multiple sources in this story anonymity to protect them from retaliation.CloudFactory announced the end of its contract with Citizen in an email to workers earlier this month. “It is with great sadness that we announce the CloudFactory and Citizen partnership will come to an end on Friday 6th January, 2023,” an email sent to CloudFactory workers and obtained by Motherboard reads. “This is because of the current ongoing market conditions over which we have no control.”One source said “I loved working there and helping thousands of people. It was a smooth run. This just caught us by surprise.”
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Crime App ‘Citizen’ Fires Overseas $2 an Hour Workers
Crime reporting and social media app Citizen has severed its relationship with an outsourcing firm it used to hire workers who were paid less than $2 an hour from countries such as Kenya and Nepal, according to sources and emails obtained by Motherboard. The workers were paid to listen to police radio audio and summarize those events for Citizen users..The news showcases the paltry wages workers were paid for something that is a key part of Citizen’s app. It also highlights the continued uncertainty of Citizen’s future, as the app has explored how to monetize or further engage its user base, sometimes with disastrous and life-threatening results. Last week, Motherboard reported Citizen had laid off dozens of employees. Those cuts now extend to contract workers too.
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Another source said “it came in as a shock for all of us, even the Citizen team I believe. None of us were financially or mentally prepared for it.” The email sent to CloudFactory workers said “new opportunities will be available for all who’ve demonstrated and continue to demonstrate a strong work ethic, excellent task performance and leadership.” One source said that hadn’t yet happened.David Choi, operations manager at Citizen, also sent an email to CloudFactory workers. He wrote that in the summer of 2020, his manager pitched him a “seemingly impossible project.”“Could we find a way to train talented individuals in Kenya, Ghana, Nepal, and the Philippines to learn local American geography, accents, and police codes to deliver important safety information to Citizen users? Three years and hundreds of trained Radio Desk analysts later, everyone at Citizen and CloudFactory know that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’,” the email read.Because Citizen is focused on specific cities in the U.S., that meant that overseas CloudFactory workers, who were not on the ground, were producing many of Citizen’s alerts. Citizen says its own “analysts” review incident updates. Tech companies’ ‘magic’ actually being the purview of poorly paid workers overseas was recently highlighted with AI system ChatGPT. A Time investigation published this month found that OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, was also using workers in Kenya paid less than $2 an hour to filter through lines of text to make the chatbot safer to use.
Citizen is half social network, half news alert service. CloudFactory workers listened to police radio audio and crafted push notifications which summarized events in close proximity to users. These can range from missing animals to shots being fired. Citizen users can also upload their own videos and comment on others. Sometimes these discussions about crime and safety are racist.A crucial problem for Citizen has been how to monetize that user base and create a return for its investors. Those investors include Peter Thiel. In August 2021 Citizen launched a paid product called Citizen Protect. For $20 a month, Citizen would let users have an on-demand agent who could follow their location and call 911 on their behalf if they felt unsafe.Citizen has also explored running on-demand private security services, going so far as to have Citizen branded vehicles drive around Los Angeles. The company has also explored a similar service in Chicago.In May 2021, Citizen’s CEO Andrew Frame offered a $30,000 bounty to any Citizen user who provided information that led to the capture of a suspected arsonist. Citizen staff broadcasted the wrong person’s name and photo, and encouraged users to find this person, potentially putting them in danger.Jordan Carlson, vice president of marketing at CloudFactory, told Motherboard in an email that “CloudFactory does not publicly discuss the details of the commercial relationships we have with clients. Likewise, we do not publicly share private information about our workforce. We will respectfully decline to comment further.”Citizen did not respond to a request for comment.Subscribe to our cybersecurity podcast, CYBER. Subscribe to our new Twitch channel.