Eyes and Apps on the Streets: From Surveillance to Sousveillance Using Smartphones

Date01 March 2019
Published date01 March 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Eyes and Apps on the Streets:
From Surveillance to
Sousveillance Using Smartphones
Vania Ceccato
This article explores the concept of surveillance by assessing the nature of data gathered by users of
a smartphone-based tool (app) developed in Sweden to assist citizens in reporting incidents in public
spaces. This article first illustrates spatial and temporal patterns of records gathered over 9 months
in Stockholm County using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to exemplify the process of
sousveillance via app. Then, the experiences of user group members, collected using an app-based
survey, are analyzed. Findings show that the incident reporting app is more often used to report an
incident and less often to prevent it. Preexistent social networks in neighborhoods are fundamental
for widespread adoption of the app, often used as a tool in Neighborhood Watch schemes in high-
crime areas. Although the potentialities of using app data are open, these results call for more in-
depth evaluations of smartphone data for safety interventions.
guardianship, location-based services (LBS), crowdsourced data, crime, safety
Since Jacobs’sseminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, we haveheard the
powerful key concept of “eyes on the street” countless times. Jacobs (1961) wrote that in order for a
street to be a safe place, “there must be eyes uponthe street, eyes belonging to thosewe might call the
natural proprietors of the street” (p. 35).But the era of smartphones and location-based services (LBS)
has changed the way that the individuals interact with a city. Now, “eyes” are complemented by
“apps,” giving expression to new ways of depicting what happens in public space and perhaps
redefining the role of guardians in surveillance. Compared with the traditional eyes on the street, the
new exercise of socialcontrol invites a number of senses otherthan sight, such as touch and sound. An
incident that happens on the street is still local (attachedto a physical place with a pair of coordinates)
but can now be seen by faraway eyes, literally by the whole world. Jacobs’ sense of “natural proprie-
tors of the street” acquires a different meaning, as those who set a record on the (m)app are not only
Department of Urban Planning and Built Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
Corresponding Author:
Vania Ceccato, Department of Urban Planning and Built Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Teknikringen 10 A,
Stockholm, 100 44, Sweden.
Email: vania.ceccato@abe.kth.se
Criminal Justice Review
2019, Vol. 44(1) 25-41
ª2019 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818818696
local residentsbut also visitors or transients, perhapswith no attachment to the area. With networks of
smartphone app users, the process of sousveillance (Mann, 2004, p. 620), from French for “to watch
from below,” seemsto be more appropriate than surveillance (“to watch from above”).“Sousveillance
describesthe present state of modern technological societieswhere anybody may take photosor videos
of any person or event,and then diffuse the information freelyall over the world” (Ganascia, 2010, p.
489). This article calls for a reconceptualization of the term surveillance in the context of crowd-
sourced data (as sousveillance) gathered by LBS apps.
The aim of this article is to explore the concept of surveillance and related terms by evaluating the
nature of the data captured by users of an incident-reporting app,
which was developed to support
crime-prevention initiatives across Sweden. The aim is achieved by first characterizing this type of
crowdsourced data as a result of the processes of sousveillance with an LBS app. Nine months of
reports (app entries) in Stockholm County are assessed using geographic information systems (GIS)
in relation to other indicators of safety and area characteristics. Also, the experiences of app users are
analyzed via a survey. Then, by looking at the nature of the app-based data and the characteristics of
the app users, we reflect upon some ideas that are taken for granted and traditionally characterize the
process of surveillance.
A reason to choose Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, as a case study is the availability of app-
based data coming from smartphones (the app is an award-winning, free digital tool) that promote
sousveillance through an online “Neighborhood Watch” scheme (NWS) and support local emer-
gency services. Moreover, another reason for this choice is the degree of media penetration in the
country, which is one of the highest in the world (Fox, 2013). According to The Internet Foundation
in Sweden, as many as 77%of the population has a smartphone, 62%uses the Internet on their
smartphone on a daily basis, and 57%navigates with help of a GPS in the smartphone. In 2015, over
95%in the 8–55 age-group were using the Internet, and this percentage is increasing within all age
groups (Internetstiftelsen i Sverige, 2016).
This article is structured as follows. It first reviews the literature in guardianship and surveillance
and indicates how they may be affected by new technological developments, for example, LBS apps.
We identify the current knowledge gaps in the international literature and use the Stockholm case
study to contribute to filling some of these gaps. Note, however, that the Stockholm study presented
here is based on a small sample data set, which means that some of the conclusions are driven by an
exploratory analysis of the data rather than by rigorous, confirmatory hypotheses testing. Instead of
claiming generality of the results, this analysis provides examples that are illustrative for the field.
This article ends with a discussion of relevant topics to be pursued in future research and some of the
technical, legal, and ethical challenges that lie ahead when using smartphone data.
Theoretical Background
The Evolution of the Concepts of Surveillance and Guardianship
While the concepts of surveillance and guardianship in city environments appeared in different
fields, in particular architecture, sociology, and environmental psychology in the 1960s and 1970s
(Barker, 1968; Hollis-Peel, Reynald, van Bavel, Elffers, & Welsh, 2011; Jacobs, 1961; Newman,
1972; Thomlinson, 1969), these notions already existed in planning practice (Lambert, 1993). In
general, surveillance can be defined as “the monitoring of behavior and activities for the purpose of
influencing and directing them” (Lyon, 2007). It can perhaps be first linked to Jeremy Bentham’s
Panopticon—the notion of being under observation from a central point, the “big brother.” However,
one of the field’s most known expressions of the concept of surveillance is not associated with a
single point of observation but rather with multiple ones. The concept of eyes on the street from Jane
Jacobs’s seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961, highlights that certain
26 Criminal Justice Review 44(1)

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