A push notification informed thousands of users of the crime reporting app Citizen Thursday night that police were responding to a 911 call in Los Angeles, an attempted burglary at a specific home in the city’s Highland Park neighborhood. At 9:41 p.m., the notification was updated to disclose that, according to police, the home belonged to pop star Billie Eilish. The notification—which included the home’s exact address—was sent to 178,000 people, according to the metrics that Citizen shows its users, and was viewed by nearly 78,000 people.
The home in question actually appears to be Billie Eilish’s family home, and its location is somewhat common knowledge, available on weird celebrity data-scraping websites. (Eilish grew up in Highland Park, a fact she mentions frequently in interviews.) But the home is blurred on Google Maps, suggesting the family is at least trying to maintain some modicum of privacy, and the news outlets who reported on the story didn’t disclose the address. (KTLA identified the street, however.)
But Citizen—originally called Vigilante when it first launched—has taken a more laissez faire approach to privacy. The entire purpose of the app is to encourage users to upload videos and photos of alleged crimes and police activity happening around them, a mission that’s occasionally had intensely negative real-world results. In May of 2021, CEO Andrew Frame led the way in encouraging Citizen users to engage in a fumbling, dangerous manhunt to find the person who set a wildfire in the tony Pacific Palisades neighborhood. The incident led to the company placing a $30,000 bounty on the wrong person; internal Los Angeles Police Department emails show that they decided to cool their working relationship with Citizen after that incident. Frame showed some contrition after the incident, but Slack messages also showed that he considered the bounty experiment a “massive net win,” and a chance for Citizen to begin “going into what the government is failing to do,” i.e. protect citizens from the rampant crime he believes surrounds them.
Celebrity addresses have often been made public in Los Angeles; starting in the late ‘30s, studios sold illustrated maps to famous actors’ homes, creating the basis for the still-ubiquitous celebrity homes bus tours that riddle Hollywood. But sending a push notification to tens of thousands of users informing them of a celebrity’s purported address represents a new and potentially troubling way of mediating the public’s relationship with that information.
On Friday morning, the address of the reported incident was abruptly changed on Citizen, naming a cross-street, not an exact address. Previous updates were also edited to remove the address and replace it with a cross-street.