Community platform Nextdoor is courting police across the country, creating concerns among civil rights and privacy advocates who worry about possible conflicts of interest, over-reporting of crime, and the platform’s record of racial profiling, per a Thursday report by CityLab.
That effort included an all-expenses-paid meeting in San Francisco with members of Nextdoor’s Public Agencies Advisory Council, which includes community engagement staffers from eight police departments and mayor’s offices, according to CityLab. Other outreach has included enlisting current and former law enforcement officers to promote the app, as well as partnerships with local authorities that enable them to post geo-targeted messages to neighborhoods and receive unofficial reports of suspicious activity through the app. According to CityLab, attendees of the meeting in San Francisco had to sign nondisclosure agreements that could shield information on the partnerships from the public.
Nextdoor has “crime and safety” functions that allow locals to post unverified information about suspicious activity and suspected crimes, acting as a sort of loosely organized neighborhood self-surveillance system for users. That raises the possibility Nextdoor is facilitating racial profiling and over-policing, especially given its efforts to build relationships with authorities and its booming user base (reportedly past 10 million). During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Nextdoor has seen skyrocketing user engagement—an 80 percent increase, founder Prakash Janakiraman told Vanity Fair earlier this month.
“There are compelling reasons for transparency around the activities of public employees in general, but the need for transparency is at its height when it comes to law enforcement agencies,” ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project staff attorney Freed Wessler told CityLab. “It would be quite troubling to learn that police officers were investigating and arresting people using data from private companies with which they have signed an NDA.”
Nextdoor and its fellow security and safety apps, including Amazon’s Ring doorbell camera platform and the crime-reporting app Citizen, are also implicitly raising fears of widespread crime at a time when national statistics show crime rates have plummeted across the country, Secure Justice executive director and chair of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission Brian Hofer told CityLab. Nextdoor marketing materials, for example, assert that Nextdoor played a role in crime reduction in Sacramento.