It’s well-established that police have the ability to read your license plate when you pass by. But, one startup dares to ask, what if such hellish, privacy-invading technology were available to the general public?
Meet Flock Safety, your new, ten-million-dollar nightmare. A recent post on Crunchbase’s blog notes that the Atlanta-based security startup just completed a massive round of funding, adding $9.6 million to the relatively meager $120,000 the company raised in 2017.
“Unlike traditional security options,” the company’s media kit boasts, “Flock safety is focused on not only preventing, but also solving crime.” In execution, this means that Flock sells security cameras to neighborhoods, and those cameras then record everything that happens in those neighborhoods. Then, thanks to the company’s proprietary algorithm which will definitely work 100 percent of the time and will definitely not just end up being a high-tech way to racially profile people, Flock will be able to automatically sift through footage “to detect color, make, license plate, and other descriptors... in seconds” and send any relevant video footage to the cops. Crunchbase’s blog post, meanwhile, notes that the Flock system is also able to “selectively target license plates of non-residents [of neighborhoods].”
Per the company’s website, Flock’s auto-snitching technology has been used to catch teens doing donuts in cars, recover a stolen bike, and help one neighborhood figure out who was dumping trash on the side of the street. One of Flock’s “Case Studies” is just about how their security cameras identified a Honda Civic, which is literally the most common car in America, while another tells the thrilling tale of a homeowners association sending a picture of a Lexus SUV to the police, simply because it was driving near someone who was walking their dog.
Though Flock presents these anecdotes as proof that their technology works, giving affluent neighborhoods a bunch of data about potential criminals without the training to understand it can actually undermine an area’s safety — especially for minorities. In a previous report on surveillance startups, Jackie Zammuto, US Program Manager at Witness, told The Outline’s Will Meyer, “I think in general [such companies] are not taking into consideration racial bias within communities or within the police force,” adding that they can actually “encourage policing based on peoples’ fears and stereotypes.”
Flock may very well make bajillions of dollars, but it won’t be by preventing or solving crimes. It will be through capitalizing off consumers’ pettiness and fears, all the while perpetuating the prejudices that inform them.