The police in the Aargau region of Switzerland have just updated their app with a shocking new feature. PRECOBS, a simple app that showed its users current traffic reports and police investigation sites, is now able to predict criminal offenses that have not yet happened. The Swiss police call the app a “mobile prevention service” that uses pattern recognition, graphical event analysis, and crime mapping to predict future crimes. This new feature is listed under police warnings, and also displays information on current police investigation sites, nearby police stations, and tips against burglaries.
Behind the PRECOBS system is the Institute for Pattern-Based Forecasting Technique (IfmPt), which is generally considered as a business corporation rather than a scientific institute. However, the app has also gotten help from Bern, Geneva, and Thurgau, where the police forces perform exceptionally well and have a lot to contribute about crime prevention. The Bavarian cities Nuremberg and Munich have been using pilot programs of the software for the past year and have seen crime rates decrease by around 14%, with heavily monitored areas dropping by almost 30%.
Activists have expressed concern over potentially detrimental effects of the app. They warn about a total surveillance of living, and fear that if a user gets a warning notification even once, they will become scared and fear-mongering even after the warning has expired.
While the police realize the uncertainty behind the app, they think that the benefits of the program strongly outweigh any cons. They are working on a new push-notification feature for the app that will alert the user to exercise caution upon entering dangerous areas rather than manually checking for it. Still, the police have a lot more experimenting with the app before it is finalized in Switzerland and perhaps implemented worldwide. We can only hope that the app does not spell a dystopian future for its users.