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Citizen Crime App Hires Big Tech Lawyer as First Law Leader (2)

Nov. 18, 2021, 10:30 AMUpdated: Nov. 18, 2021, 5:56 PM

Citizen, a controversial mobile app focused on neighborhood safety and tracking crime, has named Matthew Heckman as its first-ever legal chief.

Heckman most recently served as a deputy general counsel for commercial and corporate at Quantcast Corp., a San Francisco-based audience insights and advertising company.

He spent nearly six years in-house at Twitter Inc., where Heckman rose to the level of director and associate general counsel for media, live video, and marketing, and a little over a year as a senior counsel for internet services at Apple Inc.’s iTunes.

Citizen, which last year expanded from tracking local crime to alerting users about their potential risk from Covid-19, has a presence in over 60 U.S. cities and more than 7 million estimated users.

The app’s growing popularity, however, has come with controversy. Citizen made headlines this year for offering $25 an hour to those live-streaming crime scenes in New York City, where the company is based.

Citizen’s founder and CEO, Andrew Frame, announced a bounty reported at $10,000—later raised to $30,000—for finding an arsonist in Southern California. Users of the app targeted a homeless man who was later released by police for lack of evidence. Citizen pledged to improve its protocols.

“Citizen is a location-based safety app that allows users to stay aware of what’s happening around them,” the company said in a statement. “No one should have to feel unsafe.”

A Citizen spokesman confirmed that Heckman started this month as its first general counsel. Heckman said in a statement that making “communities safer with technology” led him to join the company.

“In building an internal legal function here, we’ll have many opportunities to set new precedent that supports our public safety mission, and which will address complex questions of law and policy,” he said.

Heckman began his legal career almost two decades ago as an entertainment law associate at several law firms, including Greenberg Traurig and Irell & Manella.

The Harvard Law School graduate joined Quantcast in 2019 after spending several months as a regional director of legal affairs for WeWork Inc. Heckman also spent two years as a director of business and legal affairs at Warner Bros. Records Inc.

Citizen, whose corporate parent is sp0n Inc., raised $73 million in new financing earlier this year. Citizen has raised roughly $133 million in total funding to date.

Those backing the privately held company include venture capital firm Sequoia Capital Ltd., billionaire entrepreneur and former Big Law associate Peter Thiel, and social impact investor Benjamin Jealous, a former president and CEO of the NAACP.

Bloomberg News reported in 2019 that Citizen supporters said the app was a tool for local empowerment, while critics argued it was responsible for rising paranoia and potential vigilantism in urban environments.

Digital rights activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have recently expressed alarm at how location-based, crowd-source public safety apps like Citizen can quickly spread unverified claims.

Public filings show that Cooley has handled both litigation and trademark work for Citizen, which was initially launched under the name Vigilante in 2016. The app was promptly removed from Apple’s App Store only to return the following year after it changed some features and rebranded itself as Citizen.

(Adds comment from Heckman in eighth and ninth paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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