How To Crowdsource Neighborhood Spies

James Bond IconIf you’ve fallen behind on a few car payments lately, your neighbor might be reporting you, not to your bank but to one of two companies, for profit. Two ‘data’ companies are paying people to report license plates of cars parked in their neighborhood. One is doing so with the intent of reselling the data to lenders who can then more easily repossess cars. The other claims to use collected data to find missing children, though their whole business model seems kind of creepy. Is there a mobile app for all that? No, but there could be.

Who Are They; What Are They Doing?

The two companies in question, as reported by MSNBC’s Red Tape blog, are Narc Technologies, Inc., and Data Network Affiliates. A quick online check shows that Narc Technologies main website is under construction, but they have NarcThatCar up and running, which explains how the finking process works. The site even goes so far as to say you can treat “narc cars” as a business opportunity and also sign up clients to work under you. I.e., multi-level marketing. (Narc Technologies, by the way, has an F-rating with BBB in Dallas, TX, partly due to a total of 13 complaints filed”). The other company, Data Network Affiliates (DNA), is also based on an MLM structure, but claim that their data is to aid in finding missing children. DNA has no signup fee, but apparently they recommend people spend over $100 for reporting software, to ease the process.

Neither apparently pays all that much ($2/20 cars for DNA), but they try to push the MLM angle to get signees to invite friends and family to do the same, thereby supposedly increasing earning potential. Does this even hold water, though? If your friends, family and neighbors also turn to finking for dollars, how many times will these companies accept the same license plate data before they stop paying? What about people who are just visiting in the neighborhood? That means a lot of potentially false data.

How to Improve the Crowdsourced Repo Process

For either company, if they want to reduce false reporting and make it easy for finks, they could learn a lesson from location-based apps such as Foursquare, Stuck or MyTown. Offer a location-sharing app for various smartphones that would allow registered users to report more easily. Finks could use the app to snap pics of a car and its license plate, then “check in”. The app would automatically determine the location from the smartphone’s GPS features. Simple. Everyone who is sitting at home unemployed could go around the neighborhood snapping and reporting every car. When they run out of cars, they could go troll in other neighborhoods, and maybe someone there using a different app could report on “stalkers in the neighborhood” who are taking pictures of people’s cars.

Of course, my sarcasm is unwarranted, depending on your viewpoint. There’s obviously value in such an app, if it were to help in finding missing children. However, I believe that there are better ways to do this than for monetary value, especially on an MLM-basis. Data Network Affiliates’ website just smacks of profiting on the supposed principle of social good. (Ok, maybe they just can’t afford a better website design. Have they considered selling their data to Narc Technologies?)

In all seriousness, crowdsourcing reportage of suspicious activity — especially related to cars — has some potential. However, if mobile location-sharing apps existed for this purpose, would people show restraint? If not, the aggregated data stream might simply disintegrate into useless noise, negating any potential value. Do you think apps like this have a place in society? What checks and bounds could be put into place to ensure they’re not abused? Should there be any profit for app users?